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Who hath put wifJom in the inward parts P Joe. 

aa^MBB^B Mii i iii HH i n i N'rii i ir ^aacg 












Vol. II, 







Printed by A 

Edinburgh, ? 

A.. Neill Sc Co.jT 



Chap. i. Of reafoning in general, and of demon- 

Jiration, - - 439 

— 1. Whether morality be capable of demon~ 

ftration, - - 449 

■ 1 ' — 3. Of probable reafoning, - 464 

-4. Of Mr Hume's fcepticifm with regard to 

reafon, - 476 


Chap. 1. Of tajle in general, - - 494 

— -— — 2. Of the objeBs of tafle, and firjl of novel' 

tjr, - - - 506 

— 3. Of grandeur, - - 513 

-4, Of beauty, - * 527 







Chap, i. Of conception, or Jimple apprehenfon in 

general, - - - I 

— 2. Theories concerning conception, - 31 

3. Mijlahes concer?iing conception^ - ct 

' ~ 4- Of the train of thought in the mind^ 7© 


Chap. i. Of general ivords, - - - IO h 

——-2. Of general conceptions, <. 117 




CHAP. 3- Of general conceptions formed by cmaly- 

fing objeBs, - - I2 7 
, Of general conceptions formed by combi- 
nation, - 1 4 

._ 5. Ob f creations conceding tie names given 
to our general notions, 



, 6 Opinions of Philofophers about univer- 

r 1, - - * 1 7° 

fah, ' 


Chap. i. Of judgment in general, - *99 

. 2 . Of common fenje, - * 

, Sentiments of Philofophers concerning judg- 

' **' - 248 

vie nt, 

m ,_ 4 , Offirft principles in general, - 280 

s * $fe firfl principles of contingent truths, 308 

._ 6 . Firf principles of necejfary truths, 34§ 

7 Opinions, ancient and modem, about firft 

• • 7 - 3°7 


8< Of prejudices, the caufes of error, - 4*3 





Of Conception, or Jimple Apprehenjion in General. 

CONCERNING, imagining, apprehending, 
under ftanding, having a notion of a thing, 
are common words ufed to exprefs that opera- 
tion of the underftanding, which the Logicians 
call Jimple apprehenjion. The having an idea of 
a thing, is in common language ufed in the 
fame fenfe, chiefly I think finee Mr Locke's 

Logicians define iimple apprehenlion to be 
the bare conception of a thing without any 
judgment or belief about it. If this were in- 
tended for a ftri&ly logical definition, it might 

Vol, II, A be 


be a juft objection to it, that conception and 
apprehenfion are only fynonymous words ; and 
that we may as well define conception by appre- 
henfion, as apprehenfion by conception \ but it 
ought to be remembered, that the moft fimple 
operations of the mind cannot be logically de- 
fined. To have a .diflinct notion of them,' we 
mutt attend to them as we feel them in our own 
minds. He that would have a diitincT: notion 
of a fcarlet colour, will never attain it by a de- 
finition ; he mull fet it before his eye,' attend to 
it, compare it with the colours that come neareft 
to it, and ohferve the fpecific difference, which 
he will in vain attempt to define. 

Every man is confcious that he can conceive 
a thoufand things, of which he believes nothing 
at all ; as a horfe with wings, a mountain of 
gold ; but although conception may be without 
any degree of belief, even the weaken: belief can- 
not be without conception. He that believes, 
muft have fome conception of what he believes. 
Without attempting a definition of this opera- 
tion of the mind, I mail endeavour to explain 
ibme of its properties ; confider the theories a- 
bout it ; and take notice of fome miftakes of 
Fhilofophers concerning it. 

i. It may be obferved, that conception enters 
as an ingredient in every operation of the mind : 
Our fenfes cannot give us the belief > of any ob- 
ject, without giving fome conception of it at the 



fame time : No man can either remember or 
reafon about things of which he hath no con- 
ception : When we will to exert any of our 
a&ive powers, there muft be fome conception of 
what we will to do : There can be no delire nor 
averiion, love nor hatred, without fome concep- 
tion of the object : We cannot feel pain with- 
out conceiving it, though we can conceive it 
without feeling it. Thefe things are felf-evi- 

In every operation of the mind, therefore, in 
every thing we call thought there muft be con- 
ception : When we analyfe the various opera- 
tions either of the underftanding or of the will, 
we fhall always find this at the bottom, like the 
caput mortuum of the Chemifts, or the materia 
prima of the Peripatetics ; but though there is 
no operation of mind without conception, yet it 
may be found naked, detached from all others, 
and then it is called iimple apprehenfion, or the 
bare conception of a thing. 

As all the operations of our mind are expref- 
fed by language, every one knows that it is one 
thing to underftand what is faid, to conceive or 
apprehend its meaning, whether it be a word, a 
fentence, or a difcourfc ; it is another thing to 
judge of it, to alTent or duTent, to be perfuaded 
or moved. The firft is Iimple apprehenlicn, and 
may be without the lait, but the lait cannot be 
without the firft. 

A % 1, In 


2,; In bare conception there can neither be 
truth nor falfehood, becaufe it neither affirms 
nor denies. Every judgment, and every pro- 
pofition by which judgment isexpreiTed, mull: 
be true or falfe ; and the qualities of true and 
falfe, in their proper fenfe, can belong to nothing 
but to judgments, or to propofitions which ex- 
prefs judgment. In the bare conception of a 
thing there is no judgment, opinion, or belief 
included, and therefore it cannot be either trUe 

or falfe. 

But it may be faid, Is there any thing more 
certain than that men may have true or falfe 
conceptions, true or falfe apprehenfions, of 
things ? I anfwer, That fuch ways of fpeaking 
are indeed fo common, and fo well authorifed 
by cuftom the arbiter of language, that it would 
be prefumption to cenfure them. It is hardly 
poffible to avoid ufing them. But we ought to 
be upon our guard that we be not milled by' 
them, to confound things, which, though often 
expreffed by the fame words, are really differ- 
ent. We muit therefore remember what was 
before obferved, Effay I. chap. I. That all the 
words, by which we fignify the bare conception 
of a thing, are likewife ufed to fignify our opi- 
nions, when we with to exprefs them with mo- 
defty and diffidence. And we fhall always find, 
that, when we fpeak of true or falfe conceptions, 
we mean true or falfe opinions. An opinion, 



though ever fo wavering, or ever fo modeftly ex- 
preffed, mull be either true or falfe ; but a bare 
conception, which exprefles no opinion or judg- 
ment, can be neither. 

If we analyfe thofe fpeeches, in which men 
attribute truth or falfehood to our conceptions 
of things, we mail find in every cafe, that there 
is fome opinion or judgment implied in what 
they call conception. A child conceives the 
moon to be flat, and a foot or two broad ; that 
is, this is his opinion : And when we fay it is a 
falfe notion, or a falfe conception, we mean that 
it is a falfe opinion. He conceives the city of 
London to be like his country village ; that is, 
he believes it to be fo, till he is better inftructed. 
He conceives a lion to have horns ; that is, he 
believes that the animal which men call a lion., 
has horns. Such opinions language authorifes 
lis to call conceptions ; and they may be true or 
falfe. But bare conception, or what the Logi- 
cians call fimple apprehension, implies no opi- 
nion, however flight, and therefore can neither 
be true nor falfe. 

What Mr Locke fays of ideas (by which 
word he very often means nothing but concep- 
tions) is very juft, when the word idea is fo un- 
derftood, book 2. chap. 32. § 1. " Though 
" truth and falfehood belong in propriety oi 
" fpeech only to propofitions, yet. ideas are often 
A 3 " termed 

6 , ESSAY. IV, [CHAP. I. 

" termed true or falfe (as what words are there 
" that are not ufed with great latitude, and with 
" fome deviation from their ftricl: and proper fig- 
** nification) ; though I think, that when ideas 
" themfelves are termed true or falfe, there is 
" ftill fome fecret or tacit proportion, which is 
" the foundation of that denomination ; as we 
" mail fee, if we examine the particular occafions 
" wherein they come to be called true or falfe ; 
" in all which we mail find fome kind of affir- 
" mation or negation, which is the reafon of 
" that denomination : For our ideas being no- 
" thing but bare appearances, or perceptions in 
" our minds, cannot properly and iimply in 
" themfelves be faid to be true or falfe, no more 
" than a fimple name of any thing can be faid 
" to be true or falfe." 

It may be here obferved by the way, that in 
this paflage, as in many others, Mr Locke ufes 
the word perception, as well as the word idea, to 
iignify what I call conception, or fimple appre- 
henfion. And in his chapter upon perception, 
book 2. chap. 9. he ufes it in the fame fenfe. 
Perception, he fays, " as it is the firlt faculty of 
" the mind, exercifed about our ideas ; fo it is 
<c the firft and limpleft idea we have from re- 
" flection, and is by fome -called thinking in ge- 
" neral. It feems to be that which puts the di- 
" ftinction betwixt the animal kingdom and the 
" inferior parts of nature. It is the firfl opera- 

" tion 


" tion of all our faculties, and the inlet of all 
" knowledge into our minds. 5 ' 

Mr Locke has followed the example given by 
Des Cartes, Gassendi, and other Cartefians, in 
giving the name of perception to the bare con- 
ception of things : And he has been followed in 
this by Bifhop Berkeley, Mr Hume, and many 
late Philofophers, when they treat of ideas. 
They have probably been led into this impro- 
priety, by the common doctrine concerning ideas, 
which teaches us, that conception, perception by 
the fenfes, and memory, are only different ways 
of perceiving ideas in our own minds. If that 
theory be well founded, it will indeed be very 
difficult to find any fpecific diftin&ion between 
conception and perception. But there is reafon 
to dirtruft any philofophical theory, when it 
leads men to corrupt, language, and to confound, 
under one name, operations of the mind, which 
common fenfe and common language teach them 
to diftinguim. 

I grant that there are fome Hates of the mind 7 
wherein a man may confound his conceptions 
with what he perceives or remembers, and mi- 
(take the one for the other ; as, in the delirium 
of a fever, in fome cafes of lunacy and of mad- 
nefs, in dreaming, and perhaps in fome momen- 
tary tranfports of devotion, or of other ftrong 
emotions, which cloud his intellectual faculties, 
A 4 and 


and for a time carry a man out of himfelf, as we 
ufually exprefs it. 

Even in a fober and found ftate of mind, the 
memory of a thing may be fo very weak, that 
we may be in doubt whether we only dreamed 
or imagined it. ( 

It may be doubted, whether children, when 
their imagination firft begins to work, can di- 
ftinguiih what they barely conceive from what 
they remember. I have been told by a man of 
knowledge and obfervation, that one of his fons, 
when he began to fpeak, very often told lies with 
great amirance, without any intention, as far as 
appeared, or any confcioufnefs of guilt. From 
which the father concluded, that it is natural to 
fome children to lie. I am rather inclined to 
think, that the child had no intention to deceive, 
but miftook the rovings of his own fancy, for 
things which he remembered. This, however, 
I take to be very uncommon, after children 
can communicate their fentiments by language, 
though perhaps not fo in a more early period. 

Granting all this, if any man will affirm, that 
they whofe intellectual faculties are found, and 
fober, and ripe, cannot with certainty diftinguifh 
what they perceive or remember, from what 
they barely conceive, when thofe operations 
have any degree of firength and diflindlnefs, he 
may enjoy his opinion ; I know not how to rea- 
fon with him. Why fhould Philofophers con- 


found thofe operations in treating of ideas, when 
they would be aihamed to do it on other occa- 
fions ? To diftinguifh the various powers of out 
minds, a certain degree of underftanding is ne- 
ceffary : And if fome, through a defeat of under- 
Handing, natural or accidental, or from unripe- 
nefs of underftanding, may be apt to confound 
different powers, will it follow that others can- 
not clearly diftinguifh them ? 

To return from this digreffion, into which the 
abufe of the word perception, by Philofophers, 
has led me, it appears evident, that the bare 
conception of an object, which includes no opi- 
nion or judgment, can neither be true nor falfe. 
Thofe qualities, in their proper fenfe, are alto- 
gether inapplicable to this operation of the 

3. Of all the analogies between the operations 
of body and thofe of the mind, there is none fo 
ftrong and fo obvious to all mankind as that 
which there is between painting, or other plaf- 
tic arts, and the power of conceiving objects in 
the mind. Hence in all languages, the words, 
by which this power of the mind and its various 
modifications are exprefTed, are analogical, and 
borrowed from thofe arts. We confider this 
power of the mind as a plaftic power, by which 
we form to ourfelves images of the v objects of 


10 £ S S A Y IV. [CHAP. I. 

In vain fhould we attempt to aviod this analo- 
gical language, for we have no other language 
upon the fubject. ; yet it is dangerous, and apt to 
miflead. All analogical and figurative words 
have a double meaning ; and, if we are not very 
much upon our guard, we Hide infenfibly from 
the borrowed and figurative meaning into the 
primitive. We are prone to carry the parallel 
between the things compared farther than it will 
hold, and thus very naturally to fall into error. 

To avoid this as far as poffible in the prefent 
fubjecl:, it is proper to attend to the difiimiiitude 
between conceiving a thing in the mind, and 
painting it to the eye, as .well as to their iimili- 
tude. The iimilitude ftrikes and gives pleafure. 
The difiimiiitude we are lefs difpofed to obferve. 
But the Philofopher ought to attend to it, and 
to carry it always in mind, in his reafonings on 
this fubjecl, as a monitor, to warn him againft 
the errors into which the analogical language is 
apt to draw him. 

When a man paints, there is fome work done, 
which remains when his hand is taken off, and 
continues to exiit, though he fhould think no 
more of it. Every flroke of his pencil produces 
an effect, and this effect is different from his ac- 
tion in making it ; for it remains and continues 
to exift when the action ceafes. The ad ion of 
painting is one thing, the picture produced is 



another thing. The firft is the caufe, the fe- 
cond is the effect. 

Let us next confider what is done when he 
only conceives this picture. He muft have con- 
ceived it before he painted it : For this is a maxim 
universally admitted, that every work of art muft 
firft be conceived in the mind of the operator. 
What is this conception ? It is an act of the 
mind, a kind of thought. This cannot be de- 
nied. But does it produce any effect befides the 
act itfelf ? Surely common fenfe anfwers this que- 
ftion in the negative : For every one knows, that 
it is one thing to conceive, another thing to bring 
forth into effect. It is one thing to project, another 
to execute. A man may think for a long time 
what he is to do, and after all do nothing. Con- 
ceiving as well as projecting or refolving, are 
what the fchoolmen called immanent acts of the 
mind, which produce nothing beyond themfelves. 
But painting is a tranfitive act, which produces 
an effect diftinct from the operation, and this ef- 
fect is the picture. Let this therefore be always 
remembered, that what is commonly called the 
image of a thing in the mind, is no more than 
the act or operation of the mind in conceiving it. 

That this is the common fenfe of men who 
are untutored by philofophy, appears from their 
language. If one ignorant of the language 
mould a(k, What is meant by conceiving a 
thing ? we mould very naturally anfwer, That 


12 issay ii [chap, i: 

it is having an image of it in the mind ; and 
perhaps we could not explain the word better. 
This fhows, that conception, and the image of 
a thing in the mind, are fynonymous expreffions. 
The image in the mind, therefore, is not the ob- 
ject of conception, nor is it any effect, produced 
by conception as a caufe. It is conception it- 
felf. That very mode of thinking, which we call 
conception, is by another name called an image 
in the mind. 

Nothing more readily gives the conception of 
a thing than the feeing an image of it. Hence, 
by a figure common in language, conception is 
called an image of the thing conceived. But to 
Ihow that it is not a real but a metaphorical 
image, it is called an image in the mind. We 
know nothing that is properly in the mind but 
thought ; and when any thing elfe is faid to be 
in the mind> the expreffion mull be figurative, 
and fignify fome kind of thought. 

I know that Philofophers very unanimoufly 
maintain, that in conception there is a real image 
in the mind, which is the immediate object of 
conception, and di Hindi: from the act of con- 
ceiving it. I beg the reader's indulgence to de- 
fer what may be faid for or againft this philo- 
fophical opinion to the next chapter ; intending 
in this only to explain what appears to me to be- 
long to this operation of mind, without con- 
fidering the theories about it. I think it appears 



from what has been faid, that the common lan- 
guage of thofe who have not imbibed any phi- 
lofophical opinion upon this fubject, authorifes 
us to underftand the conception of a thing, and an 
image of it in the mind, not as two different 
things, but as two different expreffions, to figni- 
fy one and the fame thing ; and I wifh to ufe 
common words in their common acceptation. 

4. Taking along with us what is faid in the 
laft article, to guard us againft the feduction of 
the analogical language ufed on this fubject, we 
may obferve a very ftrong analogy, not only be- 
tween conceiving and painting in general, but 
between the different kinds of our conceptions, 
and the different works of the 'painter. He ei- 
ther makes fancy pictures, or he copies from the 
painting of others, ov he paints from the life ; 
that is, from real objects of art or nature which 
he has feen. I think our conceptions admit of a 
divifion very fimilar. 

Firjl, There are conceptions which may be 
called fancy pictures. They are commonly call- 
ed creatures of fancy, or of imagination. They 
are not the copies of any original that exifts, 
but are originals themfelves. Such was the con- 
ception which Swift formed of the illand of La- 
puta and of the country of the Lilliputians ; Cer-t 
vantes of Don Quixote and his Squire ; Har- 
rington of the government of Oceana ; and 
Sir Thomas More of that of Utopia. We can 


14 ESS AY IV. [CHAP. I. 

give names to fuch creatures of imagination, con- 
ceive them diftinclly, and reafon confequentially 
concerning them, though they never had an ex- 
iftence. They were conceived by their crea- 
tors, and may be conceived by others, but they 
never exifted. We do not afcribe the qualities 
of true or falfe to them, becaufe they are not ac- 
companied with any belief, nor do they imply 
any affirmation or negation. 

Setting afide thofe creatures of imagination, 
there are other conceptions, which may be called 
copies, becaufe they have an original or arche- 
type to which they refer, and with which they 
are believed to agree ; and we call them true or 
falfe conceptions, according as they agree or dif- 
agree with the ftandard to which they are re- 
ferred. Thefe are of two kinds, which have 
different ftandards or originals. 

The firjl kind is analogous to pictures taken 
from the life. We have conceptions of indivi- 
dual things that really exift, fuch as the city of 
London, or the government of Venice. Here 
the things conceived are the originals ; and our 
conceptions are called true when they agree with 
the thing conceived. Thus, my conception of 
the city of London is true when I conceive it to 
be what it really is. 

Individual things which really exift, being the 
creatures of God, (though fome of them may 
receive their outward form from man), he only 



who made them knows their whole nature ; we. 
know them but in part, and therefore our con- 
ceptions of them muft in all cafes be imperfect 
and inadequate ; yet they may be true and juit, 
as far as they reach. 

The fecond kind is analogous to the copies 
which the painter makes from pictures done be- 
fore. Such I think are the conceptions we have 
of what the ancients called univerfals ; that is, 
of things which belong or may belong to many 
individuals. Thefe are kinds and fpecies of 
things ; fuch as, man, or elephant, which are 
fpecies of fubftances ; wifdom, or courage, which 
are fpecies of qualities ; equality, or fimilitude, 
which are fpecies of relations. It may be aik- 
ed, From what original are thefe conceptions 
formed ? And when are they faid to be true or 
falfe ? 

It appears to me, that the original from which 
they are copied, that is, the thing conceived, is 
the conception or meaning which other men who 
underftand the language affix to the fame w T ords. 

Things are parcelled into kinds and forts, not 
by Nature, but by men. The individual things 
we are connected with, are fo many,' that to give 
a proper name to every individual would be 
impoffible. We could never attain the know- 
ledge of them that is necefTary, nor converfe and 
reafon about them, without forting them accord- 
ing to their different attributes. Thofe that 


j6 E S S A Y IV. [CHAP, i; 

agree in certain attributes are thrown into one 
parcel, and have a general name given them, 
which belongs equally to every individual in 
that parcel. This common name mull therefore 
iignify thofe attributes which have been obfer*- 
ved to be common to every individual in that 
parcel, and nothing elfe. 

That fuch general words may anfwer their in- 
tention, all that is neceffary is, that thofe who ufe 
them mould affix the fame meaning or notion, that 
is, the fame conception to them. The common 
meaning is the ftandard by which fuch concep- 
tions are formed, and they are faid to be true or 
falfe, according as they agree or difagree with 
it. Thus, my conception of felony is true and 
juft, when it agrees with the meaning of that 
word in the laws relating to it, and in authors 
who underftand the law. The meaning of the 
word is the thing conceived ; and that meaning 
is the conception affixed to it by thofe who beft 
underftand the language. 

An individual is expreffed in language either 
by a proper name, or by a general word joined 
to fuch circumstances as diltinguifh that indivi- 
dual from ail others ; if it is unknown, it may, 
when an obj eel: of fenfe and within reach, be 
pointed out to the fenfes ; when beyond the. 
reach of the fenfes, it may be ascertained by a 
defcription, which, though very imperfed, may 
be true and fufficient to dittinguiih it from every 



other individual. Hence it is, that, in fpeaking 
of individuals, we are very little in danger of 
miftaking the object, or taking one individual 
for another. 

Yet, as was before obferved, our conception 
of them is always inadequate and lame. They 
are the creatures of God, and there are many 
things belonging to them which we know not, 
and which cannot be deduced by reafoning from 
what we know : They have a real efTence, or 
conftitution of Nature, from which all their 
qualities flow ; but this efTence our faculties do 
not comprehend : They are therefore incapable 
of definition ; for a definition ought to compre- 
hend the whole nature or efTence of the thing- 

Thus, Weftminfter bridge is an individual ob- 
jecl: ; though I had never feen or heard of it be- 
fore, if I am only made to conceive that it is a 
bridge from Weftminfter over the Thames, this 
conception, however imperfect, is true, and is fuf- 
ficient to make me diftinguifh it, when it is men- 
tioned, from every other object that exifts. The 
architect may have an adequate conception of its 
ftrudture, which is the work of man ; but of the 
materials, which are the work of God, no man 
has an adequate conception ; and therefore, 
though the object maybe defcribed, it cannot 
be defined. 

Vol. U. B Univerfal? 


Univerfals are always expreffed by general 
words ; and all the words of language, excepting 
proper names, are general words ; they are the 
iigns of general conceptions, or of fome circum- 
itance relating to them. Thefe general concep- 
tions are formed for the purpofe of language' and 
reafoning ; and the object from which they are 
taken, and to which they are intended to agree, . 
is the conception which other men join to the 
fame words ; they may therefore be adequate, 
and perfectly agree with the thing conceived. 
This implies no more than that men who fpeak 
the fame language may perfectly agree in the 
meaning of many general words. 

Thus Mathematicians have conceived what 
they call a plane triangle : They have defined it 
accurately ; and when I conceive it to be a plane 
iurface, bounded by three right lines, I have 
both a true and an adequate conception of it. 
There is nothing belonging to a plane triangle 
which is not comprehended in this conception 
of it, or deducible from it by jurt reafoning. 
This definition expreftes the whole elfence of the 
thing defined, as every juit definition ought to 
do ; but this effence is only what Mr Locke ve- 
ry properly calls a nominal effence ; it is a gene- 
ral conception formed by the mind, and joined 
to a general word as its fign. 

If all the general words of a language had a 
precife meaning, and were perfectly underftood^ 



as mathematical terms are, all verbal difputes 
would be at an end, and men would never feem 
to differ in opinion, but when they differ in rea- 
lity ; but this is far from being the cafe. The 
meaning of moft general words is not learned 
like that of mathematical terms, by an accurate 
definition, but by the experience we happen to 
have, by hearing them ufed in converfation. 
From fuch experience we coll eel their meaning 
by a kind of induclion ; and as this induclion is 
for the moft part lame and imperfeel, it happens 
that different perfons join different conceptions 
to the fame general word ; and though we in- 
tend to give them the meaning which ufe, the 
arbiter of language, has put upon them, this is 
difficult to find, and apt to be miftaken, even by 
the candid and attentive. Hence, in innumer- 
able difputes, men do not really differ in their 
judgments, but in the way of exprefiing them. 

Our conceptions, therefore, appear to be of 
three kinds : They are either the conceptions of 
individual things, the creatures of God ; or they 
are conceptions of the meaning of general words ; 
or they are the creatures of our own imagina- 
tion -, and thefe different kinds have different pro- 
perties which we have endeavoured to defcribe. 

5. Our conception of things may be ftrong 
and lively, or it may be faint and languid in all 
degrees. Thefe are qualities which properly be- 
long to our conceptions, though we have no 
B 2 names 


pames for them but fuch as are analogical. E- 
very man is confcious of fuch a difference in his 
conceptions, and finds his lively conceptions mofl 
agreeable, when the object is not of fuch a na- 
ture as to give pain. 

Thofe who have lively conceptions, common- 
ly exprefs them in a lively manner, that is, in 
fuch a manner as to raife lively conceptions and 
emotions in others. Such perfons are the moll 
agreeable companions in converfation, and the 
mod acceptable in their writings. 

The livelinefs of our conceptions proceeds 
from different caufes. Some objects from their 
own nature, or from accidental affociations, are 
apt to raife flrong emotions in the mind. Joy 
and hope, ambition, zeal, and refentment, tend 
to enliven our conceptions : Difappointment, dif- 
grace, grief, and envy, tend rather to flatten them. 
Men of keen paffions are commonly lively and 
agreeable in converfation ; and difpaffionate men 
often make dull companions : There is in fome 
men a natural ftrength and vigour of mind, which 
gives ilrength to their conceptions on all fubjects, 
and in all the occafional variations of temper. • 

It feems eafier to form a lively conception of 
objects that are familiar, than of thofe that are 
not ; our conceptions of vifible objects are com- 
monly the mofl lively, when other circumltances 
are equal : Hence Poets not only delight in the 
defcription of vifible objects, but find means by 



metaphor, analogy, and allufion, to clothe every 
object they defcribe with vifible qualities : The 
lively conception of thefe makes the object ap- 
pear, as it were, before our eyes. Lord Kames, 
in his Elements of Criticifm, has fhewn of what 
importance it is in works of tafte, to give to ob- 
jects defcribed, what he calls ideal prefence. To 
produce this in the mind, is indeed the capital 
aim of poetical and rhetorical defcription. It 
carries the man, as it were, out of himfelf, and 
makes him a fpeclator of the fcene defcribed. 
This ideal prefence feems to me to be nothing elfe 
but a lively conception of the appearance which 
the object would make if really prefent to the eye. 

Abitract and general conceptions are never 
lively, though they may be diftinct ; and there- 
fore, however neceflary in philofophy, feldom 
enter into poetical defcription, without being 
particularifed or clothed in fame vifible drefs. 

It may be obferved, however, that our con- 
ceptions of viiible objects become more lively 
by giving them motion, and more flill by giving 
them life, and intellectual qualities. Hence in 
poetry, the whole creation is animated, and en- 
dowed with fenfe and reflection. 

Imagination, when it is diflinguifhed from con- 
ception, feems to me to fignify one fpecies of 
conception ; to wit, the conception of viiible 
objects. Thus, in a mathematical proportion, 
I imagine the figure, and I conceive the demon- 
B 3 ftration ; 

11 ESSAY IV. [CHAP. t» 

flration ; it would not I think be improper to 
fay, I conceive both ; but it would not be fo pro- 
per to fay, I imagine the demonftration. 

6. Our conceptions of things may be clear, dis- 
tinct, and fteady ; or they may be obfcure, in- 
diftinct, and wavering. The livelinefs of our 
conceptions gives pleafure, but it is their diftincT:- 
nefs and fteadinefs that enables us to judge right, 
and to exprefs our fentiments with perfpicuity. 

If we inquire into the caufe, why among per- 
fons fpeaking or writing on the fame fubjec~t, we 
find in one fo much darknefs, in another fo much 
perfpicuity ; I believe the chief caufe will be 
found to be, that one had a diftincT: and fteady 
conception of what he faid or wrote, and the o- 
ther had not : Men generally find means to exprefs 
diftinctly what they have conceived diftinctly. 
Horace obferves, that proper words fpontane- 
oufly follow diflincl: conceptions* " Verbaque 
" provifam rem non invito. Jequuntur.^ But it is 
impoffible that a man fhould diftinclly exprefs 
what he has not diftinclly conceived. 

We are commonly taught that perfpicuity de- 
pends upon a proper choice of words, a proper 
ftruclure of fentences, and a proper order in the 
whole compofition. All this is very true, but it 
fuppofes diftinctnefs in our conceptions, without 
which there can be neither propriety in our 
words, nor in the ftrudlure of our fentences, nor 
in our method. 



Nay, I apprehend, that indiftinc"t .conceptions 
of things are, for the moft part, the caufe not on- 
ly of obfcurity in writing and fpeaking, but of 
error in judging. 

Muft not they who conceive things in the fame 
manner form the fame judgment of their agree- 
ments and difagreements ? Is it poilible for two 
perfons to differ with regard to the conclufion of 
a fyllogifm who have the fame conception of the 
premifes ? 

Some perfons find it difficult to enter into a 
mathematical demonftration. I believe we mall 
always find the reafon to be, that they do not 
diftinctly apprehend it. A man cannot be con- 
vinced by what he does not underftand. On the 
other hand, I think a man cannot underftand a 
demonltration without feeing the force of it. I 
fpeak of fuch demonftrations as thofe of Euclid, 
where every ftep is fet down, and nothing left to 
be fupplied by the reader. 

Sometimes one who has got through the firft 
four books of Euclid's Elements, and fees the 
force of the demonftrations, finds difficulty in the 
fifth. What is the reafon of this ? You may 
find, by a little converfation with him, that he 
has not a clear and fteady conception of ratios 
and of the terms relating to them. When the 
terms ufed in the fifth book have become fami- 
liar, and readily excite in his mind a clear and 
rteady conception of their meaning, you may 
B 4 venture 


venture to affirm that he will be able to under- 
stand the demonftrations of that book, and to 
fee the force of them. 

If this be really the cafe, as it feems to be, it 
leads us to think that men are very much upon 
a level with regard to mere judgment, when we 
take that faculty apart from the apprehenfion or 
conception of the things about which we judge \ 
fo that a found judgment feems to be the infepa- 
rable companion of a clear and fteady apprehen- 
fion : And we ought not to confider thefe two as 
talents, of which the one may fall to the lot of 
one man, and the other to the lot of another, but 
as talents which always go together. 

It may, however, be obferved, that fome of 
our conceptions may be more fubfervient to rea- 
soning than others which are equally clear and 
dill i net. It was before obferved, that fome of 
our conceptions are of individual things, others 
of things general and abftract. It may happen, 
that a man who has very clear conceptions of 
things individual, is not fo happy in thofe of 
things general and abftracl. And this I take to 
be the reafon why we find men who have good 
judgment in matters of common life, and perhaps 
good talents for poetical or rhetorical compofi- 
tion, who find it very difficult to enter into ab- 
ftracl: reafoning. 

That I may not appear Angular in putting 
men fo much upon a level in point of mere judg- 


ment, I beg leave to fupport this opinion by the 
authority of two very thinking men, Des Car- 
tes and Cicero. The former, in his Differta- 
tion on Method, expreffes himfelf to this pur- 
pofe : " Nothing is fo equally diftributed among 
" men as judgment. Wherefore it feems reafon- 
" able to believe, that the power of diftinguifh- 
" ing what is true from what is falfe, (which we 
" properly call judgment or right reafon), is by 
" nature equal in all men ; and therefere that 
" the diverfity of our opinions does not arife 
" from one perfon being endowed with a great- 
" er power of reafon than another, but only from 
" this, that we do not lead our thoughts in the 
" fame track, nor attend to the fame things." 

Cicero, in his third book De Oratore, makes 
this obfervation, " It is wonderful, when the 
" learned and unlearned differ fo much in art, 
" how little they differ in judgment. For art 
" being derived from Nature, is good for no- 
-" thing, unlefs it move and delight Nature." 

From what has been faid in this article, it fol- 
lows, that it is fo far in our power to write and 
fpeak perfpiououfly, and to reafon juftly, as it is 
in our power to form clear and diftinct. concep- 
tions of the fubjeci on which we fpeak or reafon. 
And though Nature hath put a wide difference 
between one man and another in this refpecl. 
yet that it is in a very confiderable degree in our 
power to have clear and diftintt apprehenfions 


£6 ESSAY IV. [CHAP, ti 

of things about which we think and reafon, can- 
not be doubted. 

7. It has been obferved by many authors, that, 
when we barely conceive any object, the ingre- 
dients of that conception muft either be things 
with which we were before acquainted by fome 
other original power of the mind, or they mull 
be parts or attributes of fuch things. Thus a 
man cannot conceive colours, if he never faw, 
nor founds, if he never heard. If a man had 
not a confcience, he could not conceive what is 
meant by moral obligation, or by right and 
wrong in conduct. 

Fancy may combine things that never were 
combined in reality. It may enlarge or diminifh, 
multiply or divide, compound and fafhion the 
objects which Nature prefents ; but it cannot, 
by the utmoft effort of that creative Power 
which we afcribe to it, bring any one fimple in- 
gredient into its productions, which Nature has 
not framed, and brought to our knowledge by 
fome other faculty. 

This Mr Locke has exprefTed as beautifully 
as juftly. " The dominion of man, in this little 
" world of his own understanding, is much the 
" fame as in the great world of vifible things ; 
" wherein his power, however managed by art 
" and Ikill, reaches no farther than to com- 
" pound and divide the materials that are made 
"to his hand, but can do nothing towards ma~ 

" king 


" king the leaft particle of matter, or destroying 
" one atom that is already in being. The fame 
" inability will every one find in himfelf, to 
" fafhion in his underftanding any fimple idea 
*' not received by the powers which God has 
" given him." 

I think all Philofophers agree in this fenti- 
ment. Mr Hume, indeed, after acknowledg- 
ing the truth of the principle in general, men- 
tions what he thinks a fingle exception to it. 
That a man, who had feen all the fhades of a 
particular colour except one, might frame in his 
mind a conception of that fhade which he ne- 
ver faw. I think this is not an exception ; be- 
caufe a particular fhade of a colour differs not 
fpecifically, but only in degree, from other 
fhades of the fame colour. 

It is proper to obferve, that our mofl fimple 
conceptions are not thofe which Nature imme- 
diately prefents to us. When we come to years 
of underitanding, we have the power of analy- 
fing the objects of Nature, of diftinguifhing their 
feveral attributes and relations, of conceiving 
them one by one, and of giving a name to each, 
whofe meaning extends only to that fingle attri- 
bute or relation : And thus our mofl fimple con- 
ceptions are not thole of any object in nature, 
but of fome fingle attribute or relation of fuch 


•28 ESSAY IV. [CHAP. I. 

Thus Nature prefents to our fenfes, bodies 
that are extended in three dimeniions, and folid. 
By analyling the notion we have of body from 
our fenfes, we form to ourfelves the conceptions 
of extenfion, folidity, fpace, a point, a .line, a 
furface ; all which are more limple conceptions 
than that of a body. But they are the elements, 
as it were, of which our conception of a body 
is made up, and into which it may be analyfed. 
This power of analyfing objects we propofe to 
confider particularly in another place. It is on- 
ly mentioned here, that what is faid in this ar- 
ticle may not be underltood, fo as to be incon- 
iiftent with it. 

8. Though our conceptions mult be confined 
to the ingredients mentioned in the laft article, 
we are unconfined with regard to the, arrange- 
ment of thofe ingredients. Here we may pick 
and choofe, and form an endlefs variety of com- 
binations and compofitions, which we call crea- 
tures of the imagination. Thefe may be clearly 
conceived, though they never exifled : And indeed 
every thing that is made, muft have been conceiv- 
ed before it was made. Every work of human art, 
and every plan of conduct, whether in public or 
in private life, muft have been conceived before 
it is brought to execution. And we cannot 
avoid thinking, that the Almighty, before he 
created the univerfe by his power, had a diftinct 



conception of the whole and of every part, and 
faw it to be good, and agreeable to his inten- 

It is the bufinefs of man, as a rational crea- 
ture, to employ this unlimited power of concep- 
tion, for planning his conduct and enlarging his 
knowledge. It feems to be peculiar to beings 
endowed with reafon to act. by a preconceived 
plan. Brute animals feem either to want this 
power, or to have it in a very low degree. They 
are moved by inftinet, habit, appetite, or natural 
affection, according as thefe principles are iiir- 
red by the prefent occafion. But I fee no rea- 
fon to think that they can propofe to themfelves 
a connected plan of life, or form general rules 
of conduct. Indeed, we fee that many of the 
human fpecies, to whom God has given this 
power, make little ufe of it. They act. without 
a plan, as the paflion or appetite which is ft rong- 
eur at the time leads them. 

9. The laft property I fliall mention of this 
faculty, is that which efTentiaily diftinguifhes it 
from every other power of the mind \ and it is, 
that it is not employed folely about things which 
have exiftence. I can conceive a winged horfe 
or a centaur, as ealily and as diftinctly as I can 
conceive a man whom I have feen. Nor does 
this diftinct conception incline my judgment in 
the leafl to the belief, that a winged horfe or a 
centaur ever exifted. 



It is not fo with the other operations of our 
minds. They are employed about real exift- 
ences, and carry with them the belief of their 
objects. When I feel pain, I am compelled to 
believe that the pain that I feel has a rea ex- 
iftence. When I perceive any external object, 
my belief of the real exiftence of the object is 
irreiiftible. When I diftinctly remember any 
event, though that event may not now exift, I 
can have no doubt but it did exift. That con-, 
fcioufnefs which we have of the operations of 
our own minds, implies a belief of the real ex- 
iftence of thofe operations. 

Thus we fee, that the powers of fenfation, of 
perception, of memory, and of confcioufnefs. are 
all employed folely about objects that do exift, or 
have exifted. But conception is often employed 
about objects that neither do, nor did, nor will 
exift. This is the very nature of this faculty, that 
its object, though diftinctly conceived, may have 
no exiftence. Such an object we call a creature of 
imagination ; but this creature never was created. 

That we may not impofe upon ourfelves in 
this matter, we mull diftinguifh between that act 
or operation of the mind, which we. call con- 
ceiving an object, and the object which we con- 
eeive. When we conceive any thing, there is- 
a real act or operation of the mind ; of this we 
are confcious, and can have no doubt of its ex- 
iftence : But every fuch act mult have an ob- 

. J ed i 


jedt ; for he that conceives, mull conceive fome- 
thing. Suppofe he conceives a centaur, he may 
have a diftincl: conception of this objed:, though 
no centaur ever exifted. 

I am afraid, that, to thofe who are unacquaint- 
ed with the dodrine of Philofophers upon this 
fubjed, I mall appear in a very ridiculous light, 
for infilling upon a point fo very evident, as that 
men may barely conceive things that never ex- 
ifted. They will hardly believe, that any man 
in his wits ever doubted of it. Indeed, I know 
no truth more evident to the common fenfe and 
to the experience of mankind. But if the au- 
thority of philofophy, ancient and modern, op- 
pofes it, as I think it does, I wifh not to treat 
that authority fo faftidioufly, as not to attend 
patiently to what may be faid in fupport of it. 


Theories concerning Conception. 

THE theory of ideas has been applied to 
the conception of objeds as well as to per- 
ception and memory. Perhaps it will be irk- 
fome to the reader, as it is to the writer, to re- 
turn to that fubjed, after fo much has been faid 
upon it ; but its application to the conception 
pf objeds, which could not properly have been 
introduced before, gives a more comprehenfive 


22 ESSAY IV. [CHAP. 2. 

view of it, and of the prejudices which have led 
Philofophers fo unanimoufly into it. 

There are two prejudices which feern to me 
to have given rife to the theory of ideas in all 
the various forms in which it has appeared in 
the courfe of above two thoufand years j and 
though they have no fupport from the natural 
dictates of our faculties, or from attentive reflec- 
tion upon their operations, they are prejudices 
which thofe who fpeculate upon this fubjeft, 
are very apt to be led into by analogy. 

The/r/? is, That in all the operations of the 
underftanding there muft be fome immediate 
intercourfe between the mind and its object, fo 
that the one may acl upon the other. The 
fecond, That in all the operations of underltand- 
ing there muft be an objed of thought, which 
really exifts while we think of it ; or, as fome 
Philofophers have expreffed it, that which is not, 
cannot be intelligible. 

Had Philofophers perceived, that thefe are 
prejudices grounded only upon analogical rea- 
foning, we had never heard of ideas in the 
philofophical fenfe of that word. 

The firft of thefe principles has led Philofo- 
phers to think, that as the external objefts of 
fenfe are too remote to aft upon the mind im- 
mediately, there muft be fome image or fhadow 
of them that is prefent to the mind, and is the 
immediate object of perception. That there is 



fuch an immediate object of perception, diftinct 
from the external object, has been very unani- 
mously held by Philofophers, though they have 
differed much about the name, the nature, and 
the origin of thofe immediate objects. 

We have confidered what has been faid in 
the fupport of this principle, Effay II. chap. 14. 
to which the reader is referred, to prevent re- 

I fhall only add to what is there faid, That 
there appears no ihadow of reafon why the 
mind muft have an object immediately prefent 
to it in its intellectual operations, any more than 
in its affections and paffions. Philofophers have 
not faid, that ideas are the immediate objects of 
love or refentment, of eiteem or difapprobation. 
It is, I think, acknowledged, that perfons and 
not ideas are the immediate objeds of thofe af- 
fections ; perfons, who are as far from being im- 
mediately prefent to the mind as other external 
objects, and fometimes perfons who have now no 
exiftence in this world at leaft, and who can, 
neither act upon the mind, nor be acted upon 
by it. 

The fecond principle, which I conceive to be 
Hkewife a prejudice of Philofophers grounded 
upon analogy, is now to be confidered. 

It contradicts directly what was laid down in 
the lad article of the preceding chapter, to wit, 
that we may have a diftinct cenception of things 

Vol. II. G which 

34 ESSAY XV. [CHAP. 2, 

which never exifted. This is undoubtedly the 
common belief of thofe who have not been in- 
ftruded in philofophy ; and they will think it 
as ridiculous to defend it by reafoning, as to op- 

pofe it. 

ThePhilofopher fays, Though there may be a 
remote objed which does not exift, there mull be 
an immediate object which really exifts ; for 
that which is not, cannot be an objed of thought. 
The idea muft be perceived by the mind, and 
if it does not exift there, there can be no per- 
ception of it, no operation of the mind about it. 
This principle deferves the more to be exa- 
mined, becaufe the other before mentioned de- 
pends upon it; for although the laft may be 
true, even if the firft was falfe, yet if the laft be 
not 'true, neither can the firft: If we can con- 
ceive objeds which have no exiftence, it follows, 
that there may be objects of thought which nei- 
ther act upon the mind, nor are aded upon by 
it; becaufe that which has no exiftence can 
neither act nor be aded upon. 

It is by thefe principles that Philofophcrs have 
been led to think, that in every ad of memory 
and of conception, as well as of perception, there 
are two objeds. The one, the immediate ob- 
jed, the idea, the fpecies, the form : The other, 
the' mediate or external objed. The vulgar 
know only of one objed, which in perception is 
foniething external that exifts; in memory, 



fomething that did exift ; and in conception, 
may be fomething that never exifted : But the 
immediate objedt of the Philofophers, the idea, 
is faid to exift, and to be perceived in all thefe 

Thefe principles have not only led Philofo- 
phers to fplit objecls into two, where others can 
find but one, but likewife have led them to re- 
duce the three operations now mentioned to one, 
making memory and conception, as well as per- 
ception, to be the perception of ideas. But no- 
thing appears more evident to the vulgar, than 
that, what is only remembered, or only conceiv- 
ed, is not perceived ; and to fpeak of the percep. 
tions of memory, appears to them as abfurd, as 
to fpeak of the hearing of fight. 

In a word, thefe two principles carry us into 
the whole philofophical theory of ideas, and fur- 
nifh every argument that ever was ufed for their 
exiftence. If they are true, that fyilem mult be 
admitted with all its confequences ; If they are 
only prejudices, grounded upon analogical rea- 
foning, the whole fyftem rauft fall to the ground 
with them. 

It is, therefore, of importance to trace thofe 
principles, as far as we are able, to their origin, 
and to fee, if poffible, whether they have any 
juft foundation in reafon, or whether they are 
ram conclufions, drawn from a fuppofed analogy 
between matter and mind. 

c * The 

g6 gs$*Y *y. i$mr-z< 

The unlearned, who are glided by the dic- 
tates of Nature, and express what they a*,e con- 
scious of concerning the operations of their ewfl 
mind, believe, chat the objed which they di- 
flindly perceive certainly exifts ; that the ob^ 
jecT: m hich they diftin&ly remember certainly 
did exift, but now may not ; but as to things 
that are barely conceived, they know that they 
can conceive a thoufand things that never exist- 
ed, and that the bare conception of a thing does, 
not fo much as afford a prefumption of its exif- 
tence. They give themfelyes no trouble to 
know how thefe operations are performed, or tQ 
account for them from general principles. 

But Philofophers, who wifh to difcoyer the 
caufes of things, and to account for thefe opera- 
tions of mind, obferving, that in other opera- 
tions there muft be not only an agent, but fome- 
thing to ad upon, have been led by analogy to 
conclude that it muft be fo in the operations of 

the mind. 

The relation between the mind and its con- 
ceptions bears a very ftrong and obvious analo- 
gy to the relation between a man and his work. 
Every fcheme he forms, every difcovery he 
makes by his reafoning powers, is very properly 
called the work of his mind. Thefe works of 
the mind are fometimes great and important 
works, and draw the attention and admiration 

of men. 



It is the province of the Philofopher to con- 
fider how fuch works of the mind are produced, 
and of what materials they are compofed. He 
calls the materials ideas. There muft, therefore, 
be ideas,: which the mind can arrange and form 
-into a regular ftructure. Every thing that is 
produced, muft be produced of fomething \ and 
from nothing, nothing can be produced. 

Some fuch reafoning as this feems to me to 
have given the firtt rife to the philofophical no- 
tions of ideas. Thefe notions were formed into 
a fyftem by the Pythagorians two thoufand 
years ago ; and this fyftem was adopted by 
Plato, and embellifhed with all the powers of 
a fine and lofty imagination. I fhall, in compli- 
ance with cuftom, call it the Platonic fyftem of 
ideas, though, in reality, it was the invention of 
the Pythagorian fchool. 

The moft arduous queftion which employed 
the wits of men in the infancy of the Grecian 
philofophy was, What was the origin of the 
world ? From what principles and caufes did it 
proceed ? To this queftion very different anf- 
wers were given in the different fchools. Moft 
of them appear to us very ridiculous. The Py- 
thagorians, however, judged very rationally, 
from the order and beauty of the univerfe, that 
it muft be the workmanfnip of an eternal, in- 
telligent and good Being: And therefore they 
C 3 concluded 

3 S ESSAY IV, [CHAP. 2. 

concluded the Deity to be one firft principle or 
caufe of the univerfe. 

But they conceived there muft be more. The 
univerfe muft be made of fomething. Every 
workman muft have materials to work upon. 
That the world mould be made out of nothing 
feemed to them abfurd, becaufe every thing that 
is made muft be made of fomething. 

Nulla?n rem e nihila gigni divinitus unquam. LucR. 
De nihilo nihil \ in nihilum nil poffe r evert i. Pers. 

This maxim never was brought into doubt : 
Even in Cicero's time rt continued to be held 
by all Philofophers. What natural Philofopher 
(fays that author in his fecond book of Divina- 
tion) ever aflerted that any thing could take its 
rife from nothing, or be reduced to nothing ? 
Becaufe men muft have materials to work upon, 
they concluded it muft be fo with the Deity. 
This was reafoning from analogy. 

From this it followed, that an eternal uncrea- 
ted matter was another firft principle of the uni- 
verfe. But this matter, they believed, had no 
form nor quality. It was the fame with the 
materia prima, or firft matter of Aristotle, 
who borrowed this part of his philofophy from 
his predeceffbrs. 

To us it feems more rational to think that the 
Deity created matter with its qualities, than 



that the matter of the univerfe mould be eter- 
nal and felf-exiftent. But fo ftrong was the 
prejudice of the ancient Philofophers againft 
what we call creation, that they rather chofe to 
have recourfe to this eternal and unintelligible 
matter, that the Deity might have materials to 
work upon. 

The fame analogy which led them to think 
that there mud be an eternal matter of which 
the world was made, led them alfo to conclude 
that there mull be an eternal pattern or model 
according to which it was made. Works of de- 
fign and art mull be diftinctly conceived before 
they are made. The Deity, as an intelligent 
Being, about to execute a work of perfect beau- 
ty and regularity, -muft have had a diftinct con- 
ception of his work before it was made. This 
appears very rational. 

But this conception, being the work of the 
Divine intellect, fomething muft have exifted 
as its object. This could only be ideas, which 
are the proper and immediate object of intel- 

From this inve {ligation of the principles or 
caufes of the univerfe, thofe" Philofophers con- 
cluded 'them to be three in number, to wit, an 
eternal matter as the material cauie, eternal 
ideas as the model or exemplary caufe, and an 
eternal intelligent mind as the efficient cauie, 

G 4 * As 

4© E S S A Y IV. [CHAP. 2. 

As to the nature of thofe eternal ideas, the 
Philofophers of that fed afcribed to them the 
molt magnificent attributes. They were im- 
mutable and uncreated ; the object of the Di- 
vine intellect before the world was made ; and 
the only object of intellect and of fcience to all 
intelligent beings. As far as intellect is fupe- 
rior to fenfe, fo far are ideas fuperior to all the 
objects of fenfe. The objects of fenfe being in 
a conftant flux, cannot properly be faid to exift. 
Ideas are the things which have a real and per- 
manent exiltence. They are as various as the 
fpecies of things, there being one idea of every 
fpecies, but none of individuals. The idea is 
the effence of the fpecies, and exifled before any 
of the fpecies was made. It is entire in every- 
individual of the fpecies, without being either 
divided or multiplied. 

In our prefent ilate, we have but an imperfect 
conception of the eternal ideas ; but it is the 
higheft felicity and perfection of men to be able 
to contemplate them. While we are in this 
prifon of the body, fenfe, as a dead weight, 
bears us down from the contemplation of the 
intellectual objects ; and it is only by a due pu- 
rification of the foul, and abftraction from fenfe, 
that the intellectual eye is opened, and that we 
are enabled to mount upon the wings of intel- 
lect to the celeltial world of ideas. 



Such was the mod ancient fyftem concerning 
ideas, of which we have any account. And how- 
ever different from the modern, it appears to be 
built upon the prejudices we have mentioned ; to 
wit, that in every operation, there mud be fome- 
thing to work upon ; and that even in concep- 
tion there mull be an object which really exifis. 

For if thofe ancient Philofophers had thought 
it poffible that the Deity could operate without 
materials in the formation of the world, and that 
he could conceive the plan of it. without a mo- 
del, they could have feen no reafon to make 
ter and ideas eternal and necefiarily exiftent 
principles, as well as the Deity himfelf. 

Whether they believed that the ideas were 
not only eternal, but eternally, and without a 
caufe, arranged in that beautiful and perfect or- 
der, which they afcribe to this intelligible world 
of ideas, I cannot fay ; but this feems to be a 
neceffary confequence of the fyftem : For if the 
Deity could not conceive the plan of the world 
which he made, without a model which really 
exifted, that model could not be his work, nor 
contrived by his wifdom ; for if he made it, he 
muft have conceived it before it was made ; it 
muft therefore have exifted in all its beauty and 
order independent of the Deity ; and this I 
think they acknowledged, by making the model, 
and the matter of this world, firft principles, no 
lefs than the Deity. 


42 ESSAY IV. [CHAP. 2. 

If the Platonic fyftem be thus underftood, 
(and I do not fee how it can hang together 
otherwife), it leads to two confequences that are 
unfavourable to it. 

Firft, Nothing is left to the Maker of this world 
but the fkill to work after a model. The model 
had all the perfection and beauty that appears in 
the copy, and the Deity had only to copy after 
a pattern that exifted independent of him. In- 
deed, the copy, if we believe thofe Philofophers, 
falls very far ihort of the original ; but this they 
feem to have afcribed to the refractorinefs of 
matter, of which it was made. 

Secondly, If the world of ideas, without being 
the work of a perfectly wife and good intelligent 
Being, could have fo much beauty and perfection, 
how can we infer from the beauty and order of 
this world, which is but an imperfect copy of 
the other, that it muft have been made by a per- 
fectly wife and good Being ? The force of this 
reafoning, from the beauty and order of the uni- 
verfe, to its being the work of a wife Being, 
which appears invincible to every candid mind, 
and appeared fo to thofe ancient Philofophers, is 
entirely deftroyed by the fuppofition of the ex- 
iftence of a world of ideas, of greater perfection 
and beauty, which never was made. Or, if the 
reafoning be good, it will apply to the world of 
ideas, which muft of confequence have been 



made by a wife and good intelligent Being, and 
muft have been conceived before it was made. 

It may further be obferved, that all that is 
myfterious and unintelligible in the Platonic ideas, 
arifes from attributing exiftence to them. Take 
away this one attribute, all the reft, however 
pompoufly exprefied, are eafily admitted and 

What is a Platonic idea ? It is the effence of 
a fpecies. ft is the exemplar, the model, ac- 
cording to which, all the individuals of that 
fpecies are made. It is entire in every indivi- 
dual of the fpecies, without being multiplied or 
divided. It was an object of the Divine intel- 
lecT: from eternity, and is an object of contemp- 
lation and of fcience to every intelligent being. 
It is eternal, immutable, and uncreated ; and, to 
crown all, it not only exifts, but has a more real 
and permanent exiftence than any thing that 
ever God made. 

Take this defcription altogether, and it would 
require an Oedipus to unriddle it. But take 
away the laft part of it, and nothing is more eaiy. 
It is eafy to find five hundred things which an- 
fwer to every article in the defcription except 
the laft. 

Take for an inftance the nature of a circle, as 
it is defined by Euclid, an object which every 
intelligent being may conceive diftinctly, though 
no circle had ever exifted ; it is the exemplar, 


44 ESSAY JV. [CHAP. 2. 

the model, according to which all the indivi- 
dual figures of that fpecies that ever exifted 
were made \ for they are all made according to 
the nature of a circle. It is entire in every in- 
dividual of the fpecies, without being multiplied 
or divided : For every circle is an entire circle ; 
and all circles, in. as far as they are circles, have 
one and the fame nature. It was an object of 
the Divine intellect from all eternity, and may 
he an. object of contemplation and of fcience to 
every intelligent being; It is the effence of a 
fpecies, and, like all other effences, it is eternal, 
immutable, and uncreated. This means no more, 
but that a circle always was a circle, and can 
never be any thing but a circle. It is the necef- 
fity of the thing, and not any act of creating 
power, that makes a circle to be a circle. 

The nature of every fpecies, whether of fub- 
itance, of quality, or of relation, and in general 
every thing which the ancients called an univer- 
ial,,anfwers to the defcription of a Platonic idea, 
if in that defcription you leave out the attribute 
of exiftence. 

If we believe that no fpecies of things could 
be conceived by the Almighty without a model 
that really exifted, we muft go back to the Pla- 
tonic fyftern, however myfterious. But if it be 
true, that the Deity could have a diftinct con- 
ception of things which did not exift, and that 
other intelligent beings may conceive objects 



which 'do .not exift, the fyftem has no better foun- 
dation than this prejudice, that the operations of 
mind rnuft be like thofe of the body. 

Aristotle rejected the ideas of his mafter 
Plato as vifionary ; but he retained the preju- 
dices that gave rife to them, and therefore fab- 
ftituted fomething in their place, but under a 
different name, and of a different origin. 
■ He called the objefts of intellect, intelligible 
fpecies ; thofe of the memory and imagination, 
phantafms, and thofe of the fenfes, feniible fpe- 
cies. This change of the name was indeed very 
fmall • for the Greek word of Aristotle, which 
we tranflate fpecies or form, is fo near to the 
Greek word idea, both in its found andfignifica- 
tion, that, from their etymology, it would not be 
eafy to give them different meanings. Both are 
derived from the Greek word which fignifies to 
fee, and both may fignify a vifion or appearance 
to the eye. Cicero, who underftood Greek well, 
often translates the Greek word idea by the La- 
tin word vifio. But both words being ufed as 
terms of art, one in the Platonic fyftem, the other 
in the Peripatetic, the Latin writers generally 
borrowed the Greek word idea to exprefs the 
Platonic notion, and tranflated Aristotle's 
word, by the words fpecies or forma; and in this 
they have been followed in the modern Ian. 


46 ESSAY IV. [CHAP. 2* 

Thofe forms or fpecies were called intelligible, 
to diflinguifh them from fenfible fpecies, which 
Aristotle held to be the immediate objects of 

He thought that the fenfible fpecies come from 
the external object, and defined a fenfe to be that 
which has the capacity to receive the form of 
fenfible things without the matter ; as wax re- 
ceives the form of a feal without any of the mat- 
ter of it. In like manner, he thought that the 
intellect receives the forms of things intelligible, 
and he calls it the place of forms. 

I take it to have been the opinion of Ari- 
stotle, that the intelligible forms in the human 
intellect: are derived from the fenfible by abftrae- 
tion, and other operations of the mind itfelf. As 
to the intelligible forms in the Divine intellect, 
they muft have had another origin ; but I do 
not remember that he gives any opinion about 
them. He certainly maintained, however, that 
there is no intellection without intelligible fpe- 
cies ; no memory or imagination without phan- 
tafms ; no perception without fenfible fpecies. 
Treating of memory he propofes a difficulty, and 
endeavours to refolve it, how a phantafm, that is 
a prefent objedt in the mind, fhould reprefent a 
thi.ig that is paft. 

Thus, I think, it appears, that the Peripatetic 
fyftem of fpecies and phantafms, as well as the 
Platonic fyftem of ideas, is grounded upon this 



principle, that in every kind of thought there 
muft be fome object that really exifts \ in every 
operation of the mind, fomething to work upon. 
Whether this immediate object be called an idea 
with Plato, or a phantafm or fpecies with Ari- 
stotle ; whether it be eternal and uncreated, 
or produced by the impreffions of external ob- 
jects, is of no confequence in the prefent argu- 
ment. In both fyftems it was thought impof- 
fible, that the Deity could make the world with- 
out matter to work upon. In both it was thought 
impoffible, that an intelligent Being could con- 
ceive any thing that did not exift, but by means 
of a model that really exifted. 

The Philofophers of the Alexandrian fchool, 
commonly called, the latter Platonifts, conceived 
the eternal ideas of things to be in the Divine 
intellect., and thereby avoided the abfurdity of 
making them a principle diftinct from and inde- 
pendent of the Deity ; but Hill they held them 
to exift really in the Divine mind as the objeds 
of conception, and as the patterns and arche- 
types of things that are made. 

Modern Philofophers, ftill perfnaded that of 
every thought there muft be an immediate ob- 
ject that really exifts, have not thought it ne- 
ceffary to diftinguifh by different names the im- 
mediate objects of intellect, of imagination, and 
of the fenfes, but have given the common name 
of idea to them all. 


4* is SAY IT. [cttAP. 2. 

Whether thefe ideas be in the fenforium, or 
la the mind, or partly in the one, and partly in 
the Other ; Whether they exift when they are 
not perceived, or only When they are perceived j 
whether they are the workmanfhip of the Dei- 
ty or of the mind itfelf, or of external natural 
caufes ; with regard to thefe points, different au- 
thers feem to have different opinions, and the 
fame author fometimes to Waver or tag diffident ; 
but as to their exiftence, there feems to be great 

So much is this opinion fixed in the minds of 
Philofophers, that I doubt not but it will appear 
to moft a very ftrange paradox, or rather a con- 
tradiction that men mould think without ideas. 

That it has the appearance of a contradiction, 
I confefs. But this appearance arifes from the 
ambiguity of the word idea. If the idea of a 
thing means only the thought of it, or the ope- 
ration of the mind in thinking about it, which 
is the moft common meaning of the word, to 
think without ideas, is to think without thought, 
which is undoubtedly a contradiction. 

But an idea according to the definition given 
of it by Philofophers, is not thought, but an ob- 
ject of thought, which really exifts, and is per- 
ceived. Now, whether is it a contradiction to 
fay, that a man may think of an object that does 
not exift ? 



I acknowledge that a man cannot perceive an 
object that does not ex id ; nor can he remember 
an object that did not exifl ; but there appears 
to me no contradi&ion in his conceiving an ob- 
ject that neither does, nor ever did exifl. 

Let us take an example. I conceive a cen- 
taur. This conception is an operation of the 
mind, of which I am confcious, and to which I 
can attend. The fole objed of it is a centaur, 
an animal which I believe never exiiled. I can 
fee no contradiction in this. 

The Philofopher fays, I cannot conceive a 
centaur without having an idea of it in my mind. 
I am at a lofs to underftand what he means. He 
furely does not mean that I cannot conceive it 
without conceiving it. This would make me no 
wifer. What then is this idea ? Is it an animal, 
half horfe and half man ? No. Then I am cer- 
tain it is not the thing I conceive. Perhaps he 
will fay, that the idea is an image of the animal; 
and is the immediate object of my conception, 
and that the animal is the mediate or remote ob- 

To this I anfwer : Fir/I, I am certain there 
are not two objeds of this conception, but one 
only; which is as immediate an object of my 
conception as any can be. 

Secondly, This one object which I conceive, 
is not the image of an animal, it is an animal! 

Vol. II. D j 

$0 ESSAY IV. [CHAJ». 2* 

I know what it is to conceive an image of an 
animal, and what it is to conceive an animal y 
and I can diftinguiih the one of thefe from the 
other without any danger of miflake. The 
thing I conceive is a body of a certain figure 
and colour* having life and fpontaneous motion. 
The Philofopher fays that the idea is an image 
of the animal, but that it has neither body, nor 
colour, nor life, nor fpontaneous motion. This- 
I am not able to comprehend. 

Thirdly, I wifh to know how this idea comes 
to be an objecl: of my thought, when I cannot 
even conceive what it means ; and if I did con- 
ceive it, this would be no evidence of its ex- 
iftence, any more than my conception of a cen- 
taur is of its exiftence. Philofophers fometimes 
fay that we perceive ideas, fometimes that we 
are confcious of them. I can have no doubt of 
the exiftence of any thing which I either per- 
ceive, or of which I am confcious ; but I can- 
not find that I either perceive ideas or am con- 
fcious of them. 

Perception and confcioufnefs are very different 
operations, and it is ftrange that Philofophers 
have never determined by which of them ideas 
are difcerned. This is as if a man mould pofi- 
tively affirm that he perceived an objecl;, but 
whether by his eyes, or his ears, or his touch, 
he could not fay. 



But may not a man who conceives a centaur 
fay, that he has a diftinct image of it in his 
mind? I think he may. And if he means by this 
way of fpeaking what the vulgar mean, who ne- 
ver heard of the philofophical theory of ideas, 
I find no fault with it. By a diftinct image in 
the mind, the vulgar mean a diftinct. conception ; 
and it is natural to call it fo, on account of the 
analogy between an image of a thing and the 
conception of it. On account of this analogy, 
obvious to all mankind, this operation is called 
imagination, and an image in the mind is only a 
periphrafis for imagination. But to infer from 
this that there is really an image in the mind^ 
diftinct. from the operation of conceiving the ob- 
ject, is to be milled by an analogical expreflion ; 
as if, from the ph rales of deliberating and ba- 
lancing things in the mind, we fhould infer that 
there is really a balance exifting in the mind for 
weighing motives and arguments. 

The analogical words and phrafes, ufed in all 
languages to exprefs conception, do no doubt 
facilitate their being taken in a literal fenfe. But 
if we only attend carefully to what we are con- 
fcious of in this operation, we mall find no more 
reafon to think that images do reallv exift in 
our minds, than that balances and other mecha- 
nical engines do. 

We know of nothing that is in the mind but 

by confcioufnefs, and we are confcious of no- 

D 2 thing 

52 ESSAY IV. [CHAP. 1. 

thing but various modes of thinking ; fuch as 
underftanding, willing, affection, paffion, doing, 
fuffering. If Philofophers choofe to give the 
name of an idea to any mode of thinking, of 
which we are confcious, I have no objection to 
the name ; but that it introduces a foreign word 
into our language without neceffity, and a word 
that is very ambiguous, and apt to miflead. But 
if they give that name to images in the mind, 
which are not thought, but only -objects of 
thought, I can fee no reafon to think that there 
are fuch things in nature. If they be, their ex.- 
iflence and their nature muft be more evident 
than any thing elfe, becaufe we know nothing 
but by their means. I may add, that if they be, 
we can know nothing befides them. For, from 
the exiftence of images, we can never,, by any 
jufl reafoning, infer the exiftence of any thing 
elfe, unlefs perhaps the exiftence of an intelli- 
gent Author of them. In this Bifhop Berkeley 
reafoned right. 

In every work of defign, the work muft be 
conceived before it is executed, that is, before 
it exifts. If a model, confifting of ideas, muft 
exift in the mind, as the object of this concep- 
tion, that model is a work of defign no lefs than 
the other, of which it is the model ; and there- 
fore, as a work of defign, it muft have been con- 
ceived before it exifted. In every work of de- 
fign, therefore, the conception mull go before 



the exiftence. This argument we applied be- 
fore to the Platonic fyftem of eternal and im- 
mutable ideas, and it may be applied with equal 
force to all the fyftems of ideas. 

If now it fhould be afked, What is the idea 
of a circle ? I anfwer, It is the conception of a 
circle. What is the immediate object, of this 
conception ? The immediate and the only ob- 
ject, of it is a circle. But where is this circle ? 
It is no where. If it was an individual, and had 
a real exiftence, it mull have a place ; but being 
an univerfal, it has no exiftence, and therefore 
no place. Is it not in the mind of him that con- 
ceives it ? The conception of it is in the mind, be- 
ing an ad of the mind ; and in common lan- 
guage, a thing being in the mind, is a figurative 
expreflion, lignifying that the thing is conceived 
or remembered. 

It may be alked, Whether this conception is 
an image or refemblance of a circle ? I anfwer, 
I have already accounted for its being, in a fi- 
gurative fenfe, called the image of a circle in the 
mind. If the queftion is meant in the literal 
fenfe, we mull obferve, that the word conception 
has two meanings. Properly it fignifies that 
operation of the mind which we have been en- 
deavouring to explain ; but fometimes it is put 
for the object of concepiion, or thing conceived. 

Now, if the queftion be understood in the laft 
of thefe fenfes, the object of this conception is 

D 3 not 

£4 ESSAY IV. [CHAP. 2. 

not an image or refemblance of a circle ; for it 
is a circle, and nothing can be an image of it-r 

If the queftion be, Whether the operation of 
mind in conceiving a circle be an image or re- 
femblance of a circle ? I think it is not ; and 
that no two things can be more perfectly unlike, 
than a fpecies of thought and a fpecies of figure. 
Nor is it more ftrange that conception ihould 
have no refemblance to the object conceived, 
than that delire mould have no refemblance to 
the object defired, or refentment to the object of 
refentment. . i 

I can likewife conceive an individual object 
that really exifts, fuch as St Paul's church in 
London. I have an idea of it ; that is, I con- 
ceive it. The immediate object of this concep- 
tion is four hundred miles diftant ; and I have nq 
realbn to think that it ads upon me, or that I 
act upon it ; but I can think of it notwithftand- 
ing. I can think of the firft year, or the lafl 
year of the Julian period. 

If, after all, it mould be thought, that images 
in the mind ferve to account for this faculty of 
conceiving things mod diilant in time and place, 
and even things which do not exifl, which other- 
wife would be altogether inconceivable ; to this 
I anfwer, That accounts of things, grounded 
upon conjecture, have been the bane of true 
philofophy in all ages. Experience may fatisfy 



us, that it is an hundred times more probable 
that they are falfe than that they are true. 

This account of the faculty of conception, by 
images in the mind, or in the brain, will deferve 
the regard of thofe who have a true tafte in phi- 
lofophy, when it is proved by folid arguments, 
firft, That there are images in the mind, or in 
the brain, of the things we conceive. Secondly, 
That there is a faculty in the mind of perceiv- 
ing fuch images. Thirdly, That the perception 
of fuch images produces the conception of things 
moll diftant, and even of things that have no ex- 
iftence. And, fourthly, That the perception of 
individual images in the mind, or in the brain, 
gives us the conception of univerfals, which are 
the attributes of many individuals. Until this 
is done, the theory of images exifting in the 
mind, or in the brain, ought to be placed in the 
fame category with the fenfible fpecies, and ma- 
teria prima of Aristotle, and the vortices of 
Des Cartes. 


Mi/lakes concerning Conception. 

i. "^TITT RITERS on Logic, after the example 

VV of Aristotle, divide the operations 

of the underftanding into three ; limple appre- 

D 4 henlion 

56 ESSAY IV. [chap. 3« 

henfion which is another word for conception, 
judgment, and reafoning. They teach us, that 
reafoning is expreffed by a fyllogifm, judgment 
by a propofition, and fimple apprehenlion by a 
term only, that is, by one or more words which 
do not make a full propofition, but only the fub- 
ject or predicate of a propofition. If by this 
they mean, as I think they do, that a propofi- 
tion, or even a fyllogifm, may not be limply ap- 
prehended, I believe this is a miftake. 

In all judgment and in all reafoning concep- 
tion is included. We can neither judge of a 
propofition, nor reafon about it, unlefs we con- 
ceive or apprehend it. We may diftinclly con- 
ceive a propofition, without judging of it at all. 
We may have no evidence on one fide or the other ; 
we may have no concern whether it be true or 
falfe. In thefe cafes we commonly form no 
judgment about it, though we perfectly under- 
ftand its meaning. 

A man may difcourfe or plead, or write, for 
other ends than to find the truth. His learning, 
and wit, and invention, may be employed, while 
his judgment is not at all, or very little. When 
it is not truth, but fome other end he purfues, 
judgment would be an impediment, unlefs for 
difcovering the means of attaining his end ; and 
therefore it is laid afide, or employed folely for 
that purpofe. 



The bufinefs of an orator is faid to be, to find 
out what is fit to perfuade. This a man may 
do with much ingenuity, who never took the 
trouble to examine whether it ought to perfuade 
or not. Let it not be thought, therefore, that a 
man judges of the truth of every propolition he 
utters, or hears uttered. In our commerce with 
the world, judgment is not the talent that bears 
the greateft price ; and therefore thofe who are 
not fincere lovers of truth, lay up this talent, 
where it rufts and corrupts, while they carry 
others to market, for which there is greater de- 

2. The divifion commonly made, by Logi- 
cians, of fimple apprehenfion, into fenfation, 
imagination, and pure intellection, feems to me 
very improper in feveral refpects. 

Fir/I, Under the word fenfation, they include 
not only what is properly fo called, but the per- 
ception of external objects by the fenfes. Thefe 
are very different operations of the mind ; and 
although they are commonly conjoined by Na- 
ture, ought to be carefully diftinguifiied by Phi- 

Secondly, Neither fenfation, nor the perception 
of external objects, is fimple apprehenfion. Both 
include judgment and belief, which are exclu 
ded from fimple apprehenfion. 

Thirdly, They diftinguifh imagination from 
pure intellection by this, that in imagination 


5& ESSAY IV. [CHAP 3. 

the image is in the brain, in pure intellection 
it is in the intellect. This is to ground a di- 
ilinction upon an hypothelis. We have no evi- 
dence that there are images either in the brain 
or in the intellect. 

I take imagination, in its mod proper fenfe, 
to fignify a lively conception of objects of light. 
This is a talent of importance to poets and ora- 
tors, and deferves a proper name, on account of 
its connection with thofe arts. According to 
this ftrict meaning of the word, imagination is 
diftinguifhed from conception as a part from the 
whole. We conceive the objects of the other 
fenfes, but it is not fo proper to fay that we ima- 
gine them. We conceive judgment, reafoning, 
proportions, and arguments ; but it is rather im- 
proper to fay that we imagine thefe things. 

This diftinction between imagination and 
conception, may be illuftrated by an example, 
which Des Cartes ufes to illuflrate the diftinc- 
tion between imagination and pure intellection. 
We can imagine a triangle or a fquare fo clearly 
as to diftinguifh them from every other figure. 
But we cannot imagine a figure of a thoufand 
equal fides and angles, fo clearly. The belt eye, 
by looking at it, could not diftinguifh it from 
every figure of more or fewer fides. And that 
conception of its appearance to the eye, which 
we properly call imagination, cannot be more 
diftinct than {he appearance itfelf; yet we can. 



conceive a figure of a thoufand fides, and even 
can demonftrate the properties which diftinguifh 
it from all figures of more or fewer fides. It 
is not by the eye, but by a fuperior faculty, that 
we form the notion of a great number, fuch 
as a thoufand : And a diftinct. notion of this 
number of fides not being to be got by the eye, 
it is not imagined but it is diftindtly conceived, 
and eafily diftinguifhed from every other num- 

3. Simple apprehenfion is commonly repre- 
fented as the firft operation of the understand- 
ing ; and judgment, as being a composition or 
combination of fimple apprehenfions. 

This miftake has probably arifen from the ta- 
king fenfation, and the perception of objects by 
the fenfes, to be nothing but fimple apprehen- 
fion. They are very probably the firft opera- 
tions of the mind, but they are not fimple ap- 

It is generally allowed, that we cannot con- 
ceive founds if we have never heard, nor colours 
if we have never feen ; and the fame thing may 
be faiid of the objects of the other fenfes. In 
like manner, we mult have judged or reafoned 
before we have the conception or fimple appre- 
henfion of judgment, and of realbning. 

Simple apprehenfion, therefore, though it be 
the fimpleft, is not the firft operation of the un- 
$erftanding ; and jnftead of faying, that the 


60 ESSAY IV, [CHAP. 3. 

more complex operations of the mind are formed 
by compounding fimple apprehenfions, we ought 
rather to fay, that fimple apprehenfions are got 
by analyfing more complex operations. 

A fimilar miflake, which is carried through the 
whole of Mr Locke's Effay, may be here men- 
tioned. It is, that our fimpleft ideas or concep- 
tions are got immediately by the fenfes, or by 
confcioufnefs, and the complex afterwards form- 
ed by compounding them. I apprehend, it is 
far otherwife* 

Nature prefents no object to the fenfes, or to 
confcioufnefs, that is not complex. Thus, by 
our fenfes we perceive bodies of various kinds ; 
but every body is a complex object ; it has 
length, breadth, and thicknefs ; it has figure, and 
colour, and various other fenfible qualities, which 
are blended together in the fame fubject ; and I 
apprehend, that brute animals, who have the 
fame fenfes that we have, cannot ;feparate the 
different qualities belonging to the fame fubject, 
and have only a complex and confufed notion of 
the whole : Such alfo would be our notions of 
the objects of fenfe, if we had not fuperior 
powers of underftanding, by which we can ana- 
lyfe the complex object, abflract every particu- 
lar attribute from the reft, and form a diftinct 
conception of it. 

So that it is not by the fenfes immediately, but 
rather by the powers of analyfing and abftrac- 

tion a 


tion, that we get the moft fimple, and the moll 
diftinct notions even of the objects of fenfe. This 
will be more fully explained in another place. 

4. There remains another miftake concerning 
conception, which deferves to be noticed. It is, 
that our conception of things is a tell of their 
poflibility, fo that, what we can diftinctly con- 
ceive, we may conclude to be pofiible ; and of 
what is impoffible, we can have no conception. 

This opinion has been held by Philofophers 
for more than an hundred years, without contra- 
diction or dilfent, as far as I know ; and if it be 
an error, it may be of fome ufe to inquire into 
its origin, and the caufes that it has been w ge- 
nerally received as a maxim, whole truth could 
not be brought into doubt. 

One of the fruitlefs queftions agitated among 
the'.fcholafUc Philofophers in the dark ages was, 
What is the criterion of truth ? as if men could 
have any other way to diftinguifh truth from 
error, but by the right ufe of that power of 
judging which God has given them. 

Des Cartes endeavoured to put an end to this 
controverfy, by making it a fundamental prin- 
ciple in his fyftem, that whatever we clearly and 
diftinctly perceive, is true. 

To underftand this principle of Des Cartes, 
it muft be obferved, that he gave the name of 
perception to every power of the human under- 
standing ; and in explaining this very maxim, 


6a e s s a Y iv. [chap. 3, 

he tells us, that fenfe, imagination, and pure in* 
telleclion, are only different modes of perceiving, 
and fo the maxim was underitood by all his fol- 

The learned Dr Cudworth feems alfo to have 
adopted this principle : " The criterion of true 
" knowledge, fays he, is only to be looked for in 
4 ' our knowledge and conceptions themfelves : 
" For the entity of all theoretical truth is nothing 
" elfe but clear intelligibility, and whatever is 
" clearly conceived is an entity and a truth ; but 
" that which is falfe, Divine power itfelf cannot 
" make it to be clearly and diftin&ly underitood. 
" A falfehood can never be clearly conceived or 
" apprehended to be true." Etern. and Immut. 
Morality, p. 172, &c. 

This Cartefian maxim feems to me to have led 
the way to that now under conlideration, which 
feems to have been adopted as the proper correc- 
tion of the former. When the authority of Des 
Cartes declined, men began to fee that we may 
clearly and diftinclly conceive what is not true, 
but thought, that our conception, though not in 
all cafes a tell of truth, might be a teft of poffi- 

This indeed feems to be a neceffary confequence 
of the received dodrine of ideas ; it being evi- 
dent, that there can be no diftincl image, either 
in the mind or any where elfe, of that which is 
impofhble. The ambiguity of the word conceive y 



which we observed Effay I. chap* 1. and the 
common phrafeology of faying ive cannot con- 
ceive fucb a thing, when we would fignify that, 
we think it impoffible, might likewife contribute 
to the reception of this doctrine. 

But whatever was the origin of this opinion,, 
it feems to prevail univerfally, and to be received 
as a maxim. 

" The bare having an idea of the propofition 
" proves the thing not to be impoffible ; for of 
" an impoffible proportion there can be no 
* idea." Dr Sam. Clarke. 

" Of that which neither does nor can exift we 
" can have no idea." L. Bolingbroke. 

" The meafure of impoffibility to us is incon- 
" ceivablenefs, that of which we can have no 
" idea, but that reflecting upon it, it appears to 
" be nothing, we pronounce to be impoffible^" 

" In every idea is implied the poffibility of 
" the exiftence of its object, nothing being clear- 
" er than that there can be no idea of an impof- 
" fibility, or conception of what cannot exift." 
Dr Price. 

" Impoffibile eft cujus nullam notionem for- 
" mare poffumus ; poffibile e contra, cui aliqua 
" refpondct notio." Wolfii Ontolog. 

" It is an eftablifhed maxim in metaphyfics, 
" that whatever the mind conceives, includes 
" the idea of poffible exiftence, or, in other 

" words, 

&4 ESSAY IV. [CHA?. 3.- 

" words, that nothing we imagine is abfolutely 
" impoffible." D. Hume. 

It were eafy to mufter up many other refpecl- 
able authorities for this maxim, and I have ne- 
ver found one that called it in queftion. 

If the maxim be true in the extent which the 
famous Wolfius has given it, in the pafTage 
above quoted, we fhall have a fhort road to the 
determination of every queftion about the pok 
iibility or impoffibility of things. We need only 
look into our own breaft, and that, like the 
Urim and Thummim, will give an infallible an- 
fwer. If we can conceive the thing, it is pof- 
fible ; if not, it is impoffible. And furely every 
man may know whether he can conceive what 
is affirmed or not. 

Other Philolbphers have been fatisfied with 
one half of the maxim of Wolfius. They 
fay, that whatever we can conceive is poffible : 
but they do not fay, that whatever We cannot 
conceive is impoffible. 

I cannot help thinking even this to be a mi- 
ftake, which Philofophers have been unwarily 
led into, from the caufes before mentioned. My 
reafons are thefe : 

1. Whatever is laid to be poffible or impar- 
tible is exprefTed by a propofition. Now, What 
is it to conceive a propolition ? I think it is no 
more than to underftand diftin&ly its meaning. 
I know no more that can be meant by limple 



apprehenfion or conception, when applied to a 
proposition. The axiom, therefore, amounts to 
this; Every propofition, of which you under- 
ltand. the meaning diftindtly, is poffible. I am 
perfuaded, that I underftand as diftinctly the 
meaning of this propofition, Any two Jides of 
a triangle are together equal to the third, as of 
this, Any two Jides of a triangle are together 
greater than the third ; yet the firft of thefe is 

Perhaps it will be faid, that though you un- 
derftand the meaning of the impoflible propo- 
fition, you cannot fuppofe or conceive it to be 

Here we are to examine the meaning of the 
phrafes offuppojing and conceiving a propofition 
to be true. I can certainly fuppofe it to be 
true, becaufe I can draw confequences from it 
which I find to be impoflible, as well as the pro- 
pofition itfelf. 

If by conceiving it to be true be meant gi- 
ving fome degree of aflent to it, however fmall, 
this I confefs, I cannot do. But will it be faid, 
that every propofition to which I can give any 
degree of afient is poffible ? This contradicts ex- 
perience, and therefore the maxim cannot be 
true in this fenfe. 

Sometimes, when we fay that we cannot con- 
ceive a thing to be true, we mean by that ex- 
prefiion, that we judge it to be impojfible* In 

Vol. II. E this 

66 ESSAY IV. [chap. 3„ 

this fenfe, I cannot, indeed, conceive it to be 
true, that two fides of a triangle are equal to the 
third. I judge it to be impoffible. If, then, 
we underftand in this fenfe that maxim, that 
nothing we can conceive- is impoffible, the mean- 
ing will be, that nothing is impoffible which we 
judge to be poffible. But does it not often hap- 
pen, that what one man judges to be poffible, 
another man judges to be impoffible ? The 
maxim, therefore, is not true in this fenfe. 

I am not able to find any other meaning of 
conceiving a propofition, or of conceiving it to be 
true, beiides thefe I have mentioned. J know 
nothing that can be meant by having the idea of 
a propofition, but either the underftanding its 
meaning, or the judging of its truth. I can un- 
derftand a propolition that is falfe or impoffible, 
as well as one that is true or poffible ; and I find 
that men have contradictory judgments about 
what is poffible or impoffible, as well as about 
other things. In what fenfe then can it be faid, 
that the having an idea of a propofition gives 
certain evidence that it is poffible ? 

If it be faid, that the idea of a propofition is 
an image of it in the mind ; I think indeed there 
cannot b'e a diftincl: image either in the mind, or 
elfewhere, of that which is impoffible ; but what 
is meant by the image of a propofition I am not 
able to comprehend, and I fhall be glad to be in- 

2. Every 


i. Every propofition, that is neceffarily true, 
.{lands oppofed to a contradictory propofition that 
is impoflible ; and he that conceives one, con- 
ceives both : Thus a man who believes that two 
and three neceflarily make five, mult believe it 
to be impoflible that two and three mould not 
make five. He conceives both propofitions when 
he believes one. Every propofition carries its 
contradictory in its bofom, and both are conceiv- 
ed at the fame time. " It is confeffed, fays Mr 
" Hume, that in all cafes where we difient from 
" any perfon, we conceive both fides of the que- 
" ftion, but we can believe only one." From 
this it certainly follows, that when we diflent 
from any perfon about a neceflary propofition, 
we conceive one that is impoflible ; yet 1 know 
no Philofopher who has made fo much ufe of 
the maxim, that whatever we conceive is pof- 
fible, as Mr Hume. A great part of his pecu- 
liar tenets is built upon it ; and if it is true, they 
muft be true. But he did not perceive, that in 
the paflage now quoted, the truth of which is 
evident, he contradicts it himfelf. 

3. Mathematicians have, in many cafes, proved 
fome things to be pofiible, and others to be im- 
poflible ; which, without demonftration, would 
not have been believed : Yet I have never found, 
that any Mathematician has attempted to prove 
a thing to be pofiible, becaufe it can be con- 
ceived ; or impoflible, becaufe it cannot be con- 
• ceived. Why is not this maxim applied to de- 
1 E 2 termine 

68 £ S S A Y IV. [chap. 3. 

termine whether it is poffible to fquare the cir- 
cle ? # point about which very eminent Mathe- 
maticians have differed. It is eafy to conceive, 
that in the infinite feries of numbers, and inter- 
mediate fractions, fome one number, integral or 
fractional, may bear the fame ratio to another, 
as. the fide of a fquare bears to its diagonal ; yet, 
however conceivable this may be, it may be de- 
monftrated to be impoflible. 

4. Mathematicians often require us to con- 
ceive things that are impoflible, in order to prove 
them to be fo. This is the cafe in all their de- 
monftrations, ad ahfurdum. Conceive, fays Euc- 
lid, a right line drawn from one point of -the 
circumference of a circle to another, to fall with- 
out the circle 3 I conceive this, I reafon from it, 
until I come to a confequence that is manifeftly 
abfurd ; and from thence conclude, that the 
thing which I conceived is impoflible. 

Having faid fo much to fhew, that our power 
of conceiving a propofition is no criterion of its 
poffibility or impoilibility, I fhall add a few ob- 
servations on the extent of our knowledge of 
this kind. 

1. There are many propofitions which, by the 
faculties God has given us, we judge to be necef- 
fary, as well as true. All mathematical propo- 
rtions are of this kind, and many others. The 
contradictories of fuch propofitions mull be im- 
polfible. Our knowledge, therefore, of what is 

impoflible, ■ 


impoflible, muft at lead be as extenfive as our 
knowledge of neceffary truth. 

2. By our fenfes, by memory, by teftimony, 
and by other means, we know many things to be 
true, which do not appear to be neceffary. But 
whatever is true, is poffible. Our knowledge, 
therefore, of what is poffible, muft at leaft ex- 
tend as far as our knowledge of truth. 

3. If a man pretends to determine the poffi- 
bility or impoffibility of things beyond thefe li- 
mits, let him bring proof. I do not fay that no 
fuch proof can be brought. It has been brought 
in many cafes, particularly in mathematics. But 
I fay, that his being able to conceive a thing, is 
no proof that it is poffible. Mathematics afford 
many inftances of impoffibilities in the nature of 
things, which no man would have believed, if 
they had not been ftrictly demonftrated. Per- 
haps, if we were able to reafon demonftratively 
in other iubjects, to as great extent as in mathe- 
matics, we might find many things to be impof- 
lible, which we conclude, without heiitation, to 
be poflible. 

It is poffible, you fay, that God might have 
made an univerfe of fenfible and rational crea- 
tures, into which neither natural nor moral evil 
ihould ever enter. It may be fo, for what I 
know : But how do yow know that it is pof- 
fible ? That you can conceive it, I grant ; but 
this is no proof. I cannot admit, as an argu- 
E 3 ment. 



raent, or even as a prefling difficulty, what is 
grounded on the fuppofition that fuch a thing 
is poflible, when there is no good evidence that 
it is poffible, and, for any thing we know, it 
may in the nature of things be impoffible. 


Of the Train of Thought in the Mind. 

VERY man is confcious of a fuccefiion of 
thoughts which pafs in his mind while he 
is awake, even when they are not excited by ex- 
ternal objects. 

The rnind on this account may be compared 
to liquor in the ilate of fermentation. When it 
is not in this ftate, being once at reft, it remains 
at reft, until it is moved by fome external im- 
pulfe. But, in the ftate of fermentation, it has 
fome caufe of motion in itfelf, which, even when 
there is no impuife from without, fuffers it not 
to be at reft a "moment, but produces a conftant 
motion and ebullition, while it continues to fer- 

There is furely no fimilitude between motion 
and thought ; but there is an analogy, fo obvi- 
ous to all men, that the fame words are often 
applied to both ; and many modifications of 
thought have no name but fuch as is borrowed 



from the modifications of motion. Many thoughts 
are excited by the fenfes. The caufes or occa- 
fions of thefe may be conlidered as external : 
But, when fuch external caufes do not operate 
upon us, we continue to think from fome inter- 
nal caufe. From the confutation of the mind 
itfelf there is a conftant ebullition of thought, a 
conftant interline motion ; not only of thoughts 
oarely fpeculative, but of fentiments, paffions 
and affeclions, which attend them. 

This continued fuccefiion of thought has, by 
modern Philofophers, been called the imagina- 
tion. I think it was formerly called the fancy, 
-or the phantafy. If the old name be laid alide, 
it were to be wifhed that it had got a name lefs 
ambiguous than that of imagination, a name 
which had two or three meanings befides. 

It is often called the train of ideas. This may 
lead one to think that it is a train of bare con- 
ceptions ; but this would furely be a miflake. 
It is made up of many other operations of mind, 
as well as of conceptions, or ideas. 

Memory, judgment, reafoning,' paffions, affec- 
tions and purpofes ; in a word, every operation 
of the mind, excepting thofe of fenfe, is exerted 
occasionally in this train of thought, and has its 
fhare as an ingredient ; So that we muft take the 
word idea in a very extenfive fenfe, if we make 
the train of our thoughts to be only a train of 

E 4 To 

J2 E S S A Y IV. [CHAP. 4. 

To pafs from the name, and confider the thing, 
we may obferve, that the trains of thought in 
the mind are of two kinds j they are either fuch 
as flow fpontaneoufly, like water from a foun- 
tain, without any exertion of a governing prin- 
ciple to arrange them •, or they are regulated 
and directed by an active effort of the mind, 
with fome view and intention. 

Before we confider thefe in their order, it is 
proper to premife, that thefe two kinds, however 
diftinct in their nature, are for the moil part 
mixed, in perfons awake and come to years of 

On the one hand, we are rarely fo vacant of 
all project and defign, as to let our thoughts take 
their own courfe, without the leaft check or di- 
rection: Or if at any time we fhould be in this 
flate, fome object will prefent itfelf, which is too 
interefting not to engage the attention, and roufe 
the active or contemplative powers that were at 

On the other hand, when a man is giving the 
nioft intenfe application to any fpeculation, or 
to any fcheme of conduct, when he wills to ex- 
clude every thought that is foreign to his prefent 
purpofe, fuch thoughts will often impertinently 
intrude upon him, in fpite of his endeavours to 
the contrary, and occupy, by a kind of violence, 
fome part of the time deftined to another pur- 
pofe. One man may have the command of his 



thoughts more than another man, and the fame 
man more at one time than at another : But I 
apprehend, in the befl trained mind the thoughts 
will fometimes be reftive, fometimes capricious 
and felf- willed, when we wifh to have them moft 
under command. 

It has been obferved very*juflly, that we muft 
not afcribe to the mind the power of calling up 
any thought at pleafure, becaufe fuch a call or 
volition fuppofes that thought to be already in 
the mind ; for otherwife, how fhould it be the 
object of volition ? As this mail be granted. on 
the one hand, fo it is no lefs certain on the other, 
that a man has a coniiderable power in regula- 
ting and difpofing his own thoughts. Of this 
every man is confcious, and I can no more doubt 
of it, than I can doubt whether I think at all. 

We feem to treat the thoughts that prefent 
themfelves to the fancy in crowds, as a great 
man treats thofe that attend his levee. They 
are all ambitious of his attention ; he goes round 
the circle, bellowing a bow upon one, a fmile 
upon another ; afks a fhort queflion of a third ; 
while a fourth is honoured with a particular 
conference ; and the greater part have no par- 
ticular mark of attention, but go as they came. 
It is true, he can give no mark of his attention 
to thofe who were not there, but he has a fuffi- 
cient number for making a choice and diftinc- 


74 ESSAY IV. . [eHAP.4. 

In like manner, a number of thoughts prefent 
themfelves to the fancy fpontaneoufly ; but if 
we pay no attention to them, nor hold any. con- 
ference with them, theypafs with the crowd, 
and are immediately forgot, as if they had never 
appeared. But thofe to* which we think proper 
to pay attention, may be flopped, examined, and 
arranged, for any particular purpofe we have in 

It may likewife be obferved, that a train of 
thought, which was at firfl compofed by appli- 
cation and judgment, when it has been often re- 
peated, and becomes familiar, will prefent itfelf 
fpontaneoufly. Thus when a man has compofed 
an air in mulic, fo as to pleafe his own ear ; af- 
ter he has played, or fung it often, the notes will 
arrange themfelves in juft order ; and it requires 
no effort to regulate their fucceffion. 

Thus we fee, that the fancy is made up of 
trains of thinking ; fome of which are fpon- 
taneous, others fludied and regulated ; and the 
greater part are mixed of both kinds, and take 
their denomination from that which is moft pre- 
valent : And that a train of thought, which at 
firft was fludied and compofed, may by habit 
prefent itfelf fpontaneoufly. Having premifed 
thefe things, let us return to thofe trains of 
thought which are fpontaneous, which mufl be 
firfl in the order of nature. 



When the work of the day is over, and a. man 
lies down to relax his body and mind, he can- 
not ceafe from thinking, though he deiires it. 
Something occurs to his fancy ; that is followed 
by another thing, and fo his thoughts are car- 
ried on from one object to another, until fleep 
clofes the fcene. 

In this operation of the mind, it is not one fa- 
culty only that is employed ; there are many 
that join together in its production. Sometimes 
the tranfactions of the day are brought upon the 
ftage, and acted over again, as it were, upon this 
theatre of the imagination. In this cafe, me- 
mory furely acts the mod confiderable part, 
iince the fcenes exhibited are not fictions, but 
realities, which we remember \ yet in this cafe 
the memory does not act alone, other powers are 
employed, and attend upon their proper objects. 
The tranfactions remembered will 'be more or 
lefs intereiling ; and we cannot then review our 
own conduct, nor that of others, without palling 
fome judgment upon it. This we approve, that 
we difapprove. This elevates, that humbles and 
depreffes us. Perfons that are not abfolutely in- 
different to us, can hardly appear, even to the 
imagination, without fome friendly or unfriendly 
emotion. We judge and reafon about things, as 
well as perfons in fuch reveries. We remember 
what a man faid and did ; from this we pafs to 
his defigns, and to his general character, and 


j6 E S S A Y IV. [CHAP. 4. 

frame fome hypothefis to make the whole con- 
fiftent. Such trains of thought we^may call hi- 

There are others which we may call romantic, 
in which the plot is formed by the creative 
power of fancy, without any regard to what did 
or Will happen. In thefe alfo, the powers of 
judgment, tafte, moral fentiment, as well as the 
paffions and affections, come in and take a (hare 
in the execution. 

In thefe fcenes, the man himfelf commonly 
acts a very diftinguifhed part, and feldom does 
any thing which he cannot approve. Here the 
mifer will be generous, the coward brave, and the 
knave honeft. Mr Addison, in the Spectator, 
calls this play of the fancy, cajlle building. 

The young Politician, who has turned his 
thoughts to the affairs of government, becomes in 
his imagination a minifter of ftate. He examines 
every fpring and wheel of the machine of govern- 
ment with the nicefl eye, and the mod exact 
judgment. He finds a proper remedy for every dis- 
order of the commonwealth, quickens trade and 
manufactures by falutary laws, encourages arts 
and fciences, and makes the nation happy at 
home, and refpecled abroad. He feels the re- 
ward of his, good adminiftration, in that felf-ap- 
probation which attends it, and is happy in ac- 
quiring, by his wife and patriotic conduct, the 



bleflings of the prefent age, and the praifes of 
thofe that are to come. 

It is probable, that, upon the ftage of imagi- 
nation, more great exploits have been performed 
in every age, than have been upon the ftage of 
life from the beginning of the world. An in- 
nate defire of felf- approbation is undoubtedly a 
part of the human conftitution. It is a power- 
ful fpur to worthy conduct, and is intended as 
fuch by the Author of our being. A man can- 
not be eafy or happy, unlefs this defire be in 
fome meafure gratified. While he conceives 
himfelf worthlefs and bafe, he can relifh no en- 
joyment. The humiliating mortifying fenti- 
ment mult be removed, and this natural defire 
of felf- approbation will either produce a noble 
effort to acquire real worth, which is its proper 
direction, or it will lead into fome of thofe arts 
of felf- deceit, which create a falfe opinion of 

A caftle builder, in the fictitious fcenes of his 
fancy, wi]l figure, not according to his real cha- 
racter, but according to the higheft opinion he 
has been able to form of himfelf, and perhaps 
far beyond that opinion. For in thofe imagi- 
nary conflicts the paffions eafily yield to reafon, 
and a man exerts the nobleft efforts of virtue 
and magnanimity, with the fame eafe, as, in his 
dreams, he flies through the air, or plunges to 
the bottom of the ocean. 


78 K S S A Y IY. [GHAP, 4» 

The romantic fcenes of fancy are moft com- 
monly the occupation of young minds, not yet 
fo deeply engaged in life as to have their 
thoughts taken up by its real cares and bufinefs. 

Thole active powers of the mind, which are 
moft luxuriant by conftitution, or have been 
moft cheriihed by education, impatient to ex- 
ert themfelves, hurry the thought into fcenes that 
give them play ; and the boy commences in 
imagination, according to the bent of his mind, 
a general or a ftatefman, a poet or an orator. 

When the fair ones become caftle builders, 
they ufe different materials ; and while the young 
foldkr is carried into the field of Mars, where he 
pierces the thickeft iquadrons of the enemy, de- 
Ipifmg death in all its forms, the gay and lovely 
nymph, whole heart has never felt the tender 
pallion, is traniported into a brilliant affembly, 
where fhe draws the attention of every eye, 
and makes an impreflion on the nobleft heart. • 

But no fooner has Cupid's arrow found its 
way into her own heart, than the whole fcenery 
of her imagination is changed. Balls and al- 
iemblies have now no charms. Woods and 
groves, the flowery bank, and the cryftal foun- 
tain, are the fcenes fhe frequents in imagination. 
She becomes an Arcadian ihepherdefs, feeding 
her flock belide that of her Strephon, and wants 
no more to complete her happinefs. 



In a few years the love-lick maid is trans- 
formed into the folicitous mother. Her fmii- 
ing offspring play around her. She views them 
with a parent's eye. Her imagination immedi- 
ately raifes -them to manhood, and brings them 
forth upon the ftage of life. One fon makes a 
figure in the army, another fhines at the bar ; 
her daughters are happily difpofed of in mar- 
riage, and bring new alliances to the family. 
Her childrens children rife up before her, and 
venerate her gray hairs. 

Thus, the fpontaneous fallies of fancy are as 
various as the cares and fears, the defires and 
hopes, of man. 

l^uicquid agunt homines, votum, timor, zra, voluptas, 
Gaudia, difcurfus ; 

Thefe fill up the fcenes of fancy, as well as the 
page of the Satyrift. Whatever porTefTes the 
heart makes occaiional excursions into the ima- 
gination, and ads fuch fcenes upon that theatre 
as are agreeable to the prevailing paffion. The 
man of traffic, who has committed a rich cargo 
to the inconiiant ocean, follows it in his thought ; 
and, according as his hopes or his fears prevail, 
he is haunted with Harms, and rocks, and fnip- 
wreck ; or he makes a happy and a lucrative 
voyage ; and before his veflel has loft light of 


SO E SS A Y IV. [CHAP. 4. 

land, he has difpofed of the profit which fhe is 
to bring at her return. 

The Poet is carried into the Elyfian fields, 
where he converfes with the ghofts of Homer 
and Op.pheus. The Philofopher makes a tour 
through the planetary fyftem, or goes down to 
the centre of the earth, and examines its various 
ftrata. In the devout man likewife, the great 
obje&s that pofiefs his heart often play in his 
imagination ; fometimes he is tranfported to the 
regions of the blefled, from whence he looks 
down with pity upon the folly and the pageantry 
of human life \ or he proftrates himfelf before 
the throne of the Moll High with devout venera- 
tion ; or he converfes with celeftial fpirits about 
the natural and moral kingdom of God, which 
he now fees only by a faint light, but hopes 
hereafter to view with a fteadier and brighter 

In perfons come to maturity, there is even in 
thefe fpontaneous fallies of fancy, fome arrange- 
ment of thought ; and I conceive that it will be 
readily allowed, that in thofe who have the great- 
eft ftock of knowledge, and the beft natural parts, 
even the fpontaneous movements of fancy will 
be the mod regular and connected. They have 
an order, connection, and unity, by which they 
are no lefs diftinguifhed from the dreams of one 
afleep, or the ravings of one delirious on the one 



hand, than from the finifhed productions of art 

on the other. 

How is this regular arrangement brought a- 

bout ? It has all the marks of judgment and rea- 

fon, yet it feems to go before judgment, and to 

fpring forth fpontaneoufly. 

Shall we believe with Letbnitz, that the mind 

was originally formed like a watch wound up ; 

and that all its thoughts, purpoies, pafiions, and 
■actions, are effected by the gradual evolution 
of the original fpring of the machine, and fuc- 
ceed each other in order, as neceffarily as the 
motions and pulfations of a watch ? 

If a child of three or four years, were put to 
account for the phasnomena of a watch, he would 
conceive that there is a little man within the 
watch, or fome other little animal, that beats 
continually, and produces the motiom Whe- 
ther the hypothecs of this young Philofopher in 
turning the watch fpring into a man, or that of 
the German Philofopher in turning a man into a 
watch fpring, be the moll rational, feems hard 
to determine. 

To account for the regularity of our thoughts, 
from motions of animal fpirits, vibrations of 
nerves, attractions of ideas, or from any other 
unthinking caufe, whether mechanical or coiir 
tingent, feems equally irrational. 

If we be not able to diftinguifh the ftrongeft 

marks of thought and defign from the effects of 

Vol. II. F mechanifm 

82 £SSA* IV. [CHAP. 4. 

mechanifm or contingency, the confequence will 
be very melancholy : For it mud necefiarily fol- 
low, that we have no evidence of thought in any 
-of our fellow men, nay, that we have no evidence 
of thought or defign in the ftru&ure and govern- 
ment of the univerfe. If a good period or fentence 
was ever produced without having had any judg- 
ment previoufly employed about it, why not an 
Iliad or Eneid ? They differ only in lefs and 
more ; and we mould do injuftice to the Philofo- 
pher of Laputa, in laughing at his project of ma- 
king poems by the turning of a wheel, if a con- 
currence of unthinking caufes may produce a ra- 
tional train of thought. 

It is, therefore, in itfelf highly probable, to fay 
no more, that whatfoever is regular and rational in 
a train of thought, which prefents itfelffpontane- 
oufly to a man's fancy, without any ftudy, is a co- 
py of what had been before compofed by his own 
rational powers, or thofe of fome other perfon. 

We certainly judge fo in fimilar cafes. Thus, 
in a book I find a train of thinking, which has 
the marks of knowledge and judgment. I afk 
how it was produced ? It is printed in a book. 
This does not fatisfy me, becaufe the book has 
no knowledge nor reafon. I am told that a prin- 
ter printed it, and a compofitor fet the types. 
Neither does this fatisfy me. Thefe caufes per- 
haps knew very little of the fubjedt. There 
muft be a prior caufe of the compofition. It 



was printed from a manufcript. True. But the 
manufcript is as ignorant as the printed book,- 
The manufcript was written or dictated by a 
man of knowledge and judgment. This, and 
this only, will fatisfy a man of common under- 
ftanding ; and it appears to him extremely ridi- 
culous to believe that fuch a train of thinking 
could originally be produced by any caufe that 
neither reafons nor thinks. 

Whether fuch a train of thinking be printed 
in a book, or printed, fo to fpeak, in his mind, 
and iffue fpontaneoufly from his fancy, it mull 
have been compofed with judgment by himfelf, 
or by fome other rational being. 

This, I think, will be confirmed by tracing 
the progrefs , of the human fancy as far back as 
we are able. 

We have not the means of knowing how the 
fancy is employed in infants. Their time is di- 
vided between the employment of their fenfes 
and found fleep : So that there is little time left 
for imagination, and the materials it has to work 
upon are probably very fcanty. A few days af- 
ter they are born, fometimes a few hours, we fee 
them fmile in their fleep. But what they fmile 
at, is not eafy to guefs ; for they do not fmile at 
any thing they fee, when awake, for fome months 
after they are born. It is likewife common to 
fee them move their lips in fleep, as if they were 

F 2 Thefe 

84 ISSAY IV. [CHAP. 4. 

Thefe things feem to difcover fome working 
of the imagination ; but there is no reafon to 
think that there is any regular train of thought 
in the mind of infants. 

By a regular train of thought, I mean that 
which has a beginning, a middle, and an end, an 
arrangement of its parts, according to fome rule, 
or with fome intention. Thus, the conception 
of a defign, and of the means of executing it ; 
the conception of a whole, and the number and 
order of the parts. Thefe are inftances of the 
raoft fimple trains of thought that can be called 

Man has undoubtedly a power (whether we 
call it tafte or judgment, is not of any confe- 
quence in the p relent argument) whereby he 
diftinguifhes between a compofition, and a heap 
of materials ; between a houfe, for inftance, and 
a heap of ftones ; between a fentence, and a heap 
of words ; between a picture, and a heap of co- 
lours. It does not appear to me that children 
have any regular trains of thought until this 
power begins to operate. Thofe who are born 
fuch idiots as never to fhew any figns of this 
power, fhow as little any figns of regularity of 
thought. It feems, therefore, that this power is 
connected with all regular trains of thought, and 
may be the caufe of them. 

Such trains of thought difcover themfelves in 
children about two years of age. They can 



then give attention to the operations of older 
children in making their little houfes, and (hips, 
and other fuch things, in imitation of the works 
of men. They are then capable of underftand- 
ing a little of language, which fhews both a re- 
gular train of thinking, and fome degree of ab- 
ftraction. I think we may perceive a diftinction 
between the faculties of children of two or three 
years of age, and thofe of the moil fagacious 
brutes. They can then perceive defign and re- 
gularity in the works of others, efpecially of 
older children ; their little minds are fired with 
the difcovery ; they are eager to imitate it, and 
never at reft till they can exhibit fomething of 
the fame kind. 

When a child firft learns by imitation to do 
fomething that requires defign, how does he 
exult ! Pythagoras was not more happy in the 
difcovery of his famous theorem. He feems 
then firft to reflect, upon himfelf, and to fwell 
with felf-efteem. His eyes fparkle. He is im- 
patient to (hew his performance to all about him, 
and thinks himfelf entitled to their applaufe. 
He is applauded by all, and feels the fame emo- 
tion from this applaufe, as a Roman Gonial did 
from a triumph. He has now a confcioufnefs 
of fome worth in himfelf. He aifumes a fupe- 
riority over thofe who- are not fo wife ; and pays 
vefpedt. to thofe who are wifer than himfelf. He 
F 3 attempts 

%6 essav m [chap. 4. 

attempts fomething elfe, and is every day reap- 
ing new laurels. 

As children grow up, they are delighted witk 
tales, with childifh games, with defigns and ftra- 
tagems : Every thing of this kind ftores the fan- 
cy with a new regular train of thought, which 
becomes familiar by repetition, fo that one part 
draws the whole after it in the imagination. 

The imagination of a child, like the hand 
of a painter, is long employed in copying the 
works of others, before it attempts any inven- 
tion of its own. 

The power of invention is not yet brought 
forth, but it is coming forward, and, like the 
bud of a tree, is ready to burft its integuments, 
when fome accident aids its eruption. 

There is no power of the underftanding that 
gives fo much pleafure to the owner as that of 
invention ; whether it be employed in mecha- 
nics, in fcience, in the conduct of life, in poetry, 
in wit, or in the fine arts. One who is con- 
fcious of it, acquires thereby a worth and im- 
portance in his own eye which he had not be- 
fore. He looks upon himfelf as one who for- 
merly lived upon the bounty and gratuity of 
others, but who has now acquired fome proper- 
ty of his own. When this power begins to be 
felt in the young mind, it has the grace of no- 
velty added to its other charms, and, like the 



youngeft child of the family, is carelTed beyond 
all the reft. 

We may be fure, therefore, that as foon as 
children are confcious of this power, they will 
exercife it in fuch ways as arefuitedto their «ge, 
and to the objects they are employed about. 
This gives rife to innumerable new afiociations, 
ar.d regular trains of thought, which make the 
deeper impreilion upon the mind, as they are 
its exclulive property. 

I am aware that the power of invention is 
diftributed among men more unequally than al- 
moft any other. When it is able to produce 
any thing that is interefting to mankind, we call 
it genius ; a talent which is the lot of very few. 
But there is perhaps a lower kind, or lower de- 
gree of invention that is more common. How - 
ever this may be, it mull be allowed, that the 
power of invention in thofe who have it, will 
produce many new regular trains of thought ; 
and thefe being expreiled in works of art, in 
writing, or in difcourfe, will be copied by others. 

Thus I conceive the minds of children, as 
foon as they have judgment to diftinguiih what 
is Tegular, orderly, and connected, from a mere 
medley of thought, are furnifhed with regular 
trains of thinking by thefe means, 

Firjl and chiefly, by copying what they fee 

in the works and in the difcourfe of others. 

Man is the moll imitative of all animals ; he. 

F 4 not 

S8 E S S A Y IV. [CHAP. 4. 

not only imitates with intention, and purpofely, 
what he thinks has any grace or beauty, but 
even without intention, he is led by a kind of. 
inftinct, which it is difficult to re Gil, into the 
modes of fpeaking, thinking, and acting, which 
he has been accuftomed to fee in his early years. 
The more children fee of what is regular and 
beautiful in what is prefented to them, the more 
they are led to obferve and to imitate it. 

This is the chief part of their (lock, and de- 
fcends to them by a kind of tradition from thofe 
who came before them ; and we fhall find, that 
the fancy of mod men is furnifhed from thofe 
they have converfed with, as well as their reli- 
gion, language, and manners. 

Secondly, By the additions or innovations that 
are properly their own, thefe will be greater or 
iefs, in proportion to their ftudy and invention > 
but in the bulk of mankind are not very confi- 

Every profeffion, and every rank in life, has 
a manner of thinking, and turn of fancy that is 
proper to it ; by which it ischaradterifed in co- 
medies and works of humour. The bulk of 
men of the fame nation, of the fame rank, and 
of the fame occupation, are call as it were in 
the fame mould. This mould itfelf changes 
gradually, but flowly, by new inventions,, by in- 
tercourfe wiih ftrangers, or by other accidents. 



The condition of man requires a longer in- 
fancy and youth than that of other animals ; for 
this reafon, among others, that almoft every fta- 
tion in civil fociety requires a multitude of re- 
gular trains of thought, to be not only acquired, 
but to be made fo familiar by frequent repeti- 
tion, as to prefent themfelves fpontaneouily, 
when there is occafion for them. 

The imagination even of men of good parts 
never ferves them readily but in things wherein 
it has been much exercifed. A Miniiler of 
State holds a conference with a foreign AmbafTa- 
dor, with no greater emotion than a Profeffor in 
a college prelects to his audience. The imagi- 
nation of each prefents to him what the occa- 
fion requires to be faid, and how. Let them 
change places, and both would find themfelves 
at a lofs. 

The habits which the human mind is capable 
of acquiring by exercife are wonderful in many 
inftances ; in none more wonderful, than in that 
verfatility of imagination which a well bred man 
acquires, by being much exercifed in the various 
fcenes of life. In the morning he vilits a friend 
in affliction. Here his imagination brings forth 
from its ftore every topic of confolation ; every 
thing that is agreeable to the laws of friendfhip 
and fympathy, and nothing that is not fo. From 
thence he drives to the Minister's levee, where 
imagination readily fuggefts what is proper to 


90 ESSAY IV. [CHAP. 4. 

be faid or replied to every man, and in what 
manner, according to the degree of acquaintance 
or familiarity, of rank or dependence, of oppo- 
lition or concurrence of interefts, of confidence 
or diftruft, that is between them. Nor does all 
this employment hinder him from carrying on 
fome defign with much artifice, and endeavour- 
ing to penetrate into the views of others through 
the clofeft difguifes. From the levee he goes 
to the Houfe of Commons, and fpeaks upon the 
affairs- of the nation ; from thence to a ball or 
afiembly, and entertains the ladies. His ima- 
gination puts on the friend, the courtier, the pa- 
triot, the fine gentleman, with more eafe than 
we put off one fuit and put on another. 

This is the effect of training and exercife. 
For a man of equal parts and knowledge, but 
unaccuftomed to thofe fcenes of public life, is 
quite difconcerted when firfl brought into them. 
His thoughts are put to flight, and he cannot ral- 
ly them. 

There are feats of imagination to be learned 
ljy application and practice, as wonderful as the 
feats of balancers and rope-dancers, and often as 

When a man can make a hundred verfes Hand- 
ing on one foot, or play three or four games at 
chefs at the fame time without feeing the board, it 
is probable he hath fpent his life in acquiring fuch 



a feat. However, fuch unufual phenomena fhew 
what habits of imagination may be acquired. 

When fuch habits are acquired and perfected, 
they are exercifed without any laborious effort ; 
like the habit of playing upon an inftrument of 
mulic. There are innumerable motions of the 
fingers upon the flops or keys, which rauft be 
directed in one particular train or fucceffion. 
There is only one arrangement of thofe motions 
that is right, while there are ten thoufand that 
are wrong, and would fpoil the mufic. The 
Mulician thinks not in the lead of the arrange- 
ment of thofe motions ; he has a diftinct. idea of 
the tune, and wills to play it. The motions of 
the fingers arrange themfelves, fo as to anfwer 
his intention. 

In like manner, when a man fpeaks upon a. 
fubjecl with which he is acquainted, there is a 
certain arrangement of his thoughts and words 
necefTary to make his difcourfe fenfible, perti- 
nent, and grammatical. In every lentence, there 
are more rules of grammar, logic, and rhetoric, 
that may be tranfgreffed, than there are words 
and letters. He fpeaks without thinking of any 
of thofe rules, and yet obferves them all, as if 
they were all in his eye. 

This is a habit fo iimilar to that of a player on 
an inftrument, that I think both muft be got in 
the fame way, that is, by much practice, and the. 
power of habit. 


92 £ S S A Y IV. [CHAP. 4, 

When a man fpeaks well and methodically 
upon a fubject without ftudy, and with perfect 
eafe, I believe we may take it for granted that 
his thoughts run in a beaten track. There is a 
mould in his mind, which has been formed by 
much practice, or by ftudy, for this very fubjecl, 
or for fome other fo limilar and analogous, that 
his difcourfe falls into this mould with eafe, and 
takes its form from it. 

Hitherto we have considered the operations of 
fancy that are either fpontaneous, or at leaft re- 
quire no laborious effort to guide and direct them, 
and have endeavoured to account for that degree of 
regularity and arrangement which is found even 
in them. The natural powers of judgment and 
invention, the pleafure that always attends the 
exercife of thofe powers, the means we have of 
improving them by imitation of others, and the 
effect of practice and habits, feems to me fuffi- 
ciently to account for this phenomenon, without 
fuppoling any unaccountable attractions of ideas 
by which they arrange themfelves. 

But we are able to direct our thoughts in a 
certain courfe fo as to perform a deftined tafk. 

Every work of art has its model framed in the 
imagination. Here the Iliad of Homer, the Re- 
public of Plato, the Principia of Newton, 
were fabricated. Shall we believe, that thofe 
works took the form in which they now appear 
of themfelves ? That the fentiments, the man- 


ners, and the paffions arranged themfelves at 
once in the mind of Homer, fo as to form the 
Iliad ? Was there no more effort in the composi- 
tion, than there is in telling a well-known tale, 
or tinging a favourite fong ? This cannot be be- 

Granting that fome happy thought firrt fug- 
gefted the defign of ringing the wrath of A- 
chilles ; yet, furely, it was a matter of judg- 
ment and choice where the narration mould be- 
gin, and where it fhould end. 

Granting that the fertility of the Poet's ima- 
gination fuggefted a variety of rich materials ; 
was not judgment neceffary to felect what was 
proper, to reject what was improper, to arrange 
the materials into a juft compofition, and to a- 
dapt them to each other, and to the defign of 
the whole ? 

No man can believe that Homer's ideas, mere- 
ly by certain fympathies and antipathies, by 
certain attractions and repulfions inherent in 
their natures, arranged themfelves according to 
the moil perfect rules of Epic poetry ; and 
Newton's, according to the rules of mathema- 
tical compolition. 

I mould fooner believe that the Poet, after he 
invoked his Mufe, did nothing at all but Men 
to the fong of the goddefs. Poets indeed, and 
other artifts, mufl make their works appear na- 
tural ; but nature is the perfection of art, and 


94 ESSAY xv. [chap. 4. 

there can be no juft imitation of nature without 
art : When the building is finifhed, the rubbifh, 
the fcaffolds, the tools and engines, are carried 
out of fight •, but we know it could not haye 
been reared without them. 

The train of thinking, therefore, is capable of 
being guided and directed, much in the fame 
manner as the horfe we ride. The horfe has 
his ftrength, his agility, and his mettle in him- 
felf ; he has been taught certain movements, 
and many ufeful habits that make him more 
fubfervient to our purpofes, and obedient to our 
will: but to accomplifh a journey, he muft be 
directed by the rider. 

In like manner, fancy has its original powers, 
which are very different in different perfons ;.it 
has likewife more regular motions, to which it 
has been trained by a long courfe of difcipline 
and exercife ; and by which it may extempore, 
and without much effort, produce things that 
have a confiderable degree of beauty, regularity, 
and defign. 

But the mod perfect works of defign are ne- 
ver extemporary. Our firfl thoughts are re- 
viewed ; we place them at a proper diflance ; 
examine every part, and take a complex view of 
the whole : By our critical faculties, we per- 
ceive this part to be redundant, that deficient ; 
here is a want of nerves, there a want of delica- 
cy ; this is obfcure, that too diffufe : Things are 



marfhalled anew, according to a fecond and more 
deliberate judgment - ? what was deficient, is fup- 
plied ; what was diflocated, is put in joint ; re- 
dundances are lopped off, and the whole polrfh-- 

Though Poets of all artifls make the higheft 
claim to infpiration, yet if we believe Horace, 
a competent judge, no production in that art can 
have merit, which has not coft fuch labour as 
this in the birth. 

Vos O ! 
Pompilius fanguis, carmen reprehendite quod non 
]Mu/ta dies, et mult a litura coercuit, atque 
Perfetlum decies non cajligavit ad unguem. 

The conclusion I would draw from all that 
has been faid upon this fubject is, That every 
thing that is regular in that train of thought, 
which we call fancy or imagination, from the 
little defigns and reveries of children, to the 
grandeft productions of human genius, was ori- 
ginally the offspring of judgment or tafte, ap- 
plied with fome effort greater or lefs. What 
one perfon compofed with art and judgment, is 
imitated by another with great eafe. What a 
man himfelf at firft compofed with pains, be- 
comes by habit fo familiar, as to offer itfelf fpon- 
taneouflv to his fancy afterwards : But nothing 
tha is regular, wa ever at firft conceived, with- 
out defign, attention, and care. 


96 E S S A Y IV. [CHAP. 4. 

I (hall now make a few reflections upon a 
theory which has been applied to account for 
this fucceffive train of thought in the mind. It 
was hinted by Mr Hobbes, but has drawn more 
attention fince it was diftinctly explained by Mr 

That author thinks that the train of thought 
in the mind is owing to a kind of attraction 
w T hich ideas have for other ideas that bear cer- 
tain relations to them. He thinks the complex 
ideas, which are the common fubjects of our 
thoughts and reafoning, are owing to the fame 
caufe. The relations which produce this at- 
traction of ideas, he thinks, are thefe three only, 
to wit, caufation, contiguity in time or place, 
and fimilitude. . He afferts, that thefe are the 
only general principles that unite ideas. And 
having, in another place, occalion to take notice 
of contrariety as a principle of connection among 
ideas, in order to reconcile this to his fyltem, he 
tells us gravely, that contrariety may perhaps be 
confidered as a mixture of caufation and refem- 
blance. That ideas which have any of thefe 
three relations do mutually attract each other, 
lb that, one of them being prefented to the fan*- 
cy, the other is drawn along with it, this he 
feems to think an original property of the mind, 
or rather of the ideas, and therefore inexpli- 


Firjl, I obferve with regard to this theory, 
that although it is true that the thought of any 
object is apt to lead us to the thought of its 
caufe or effect, of things contiguous to it in 
time or place, or of things refembling it, yet 
this enumeration of the relations of things which 
are apt to lead us from one object to another, is 
very inaccurate. 

The enumeration is too large upon his own 
principles ; but it is by far too fcanty in reality. 
Caufation, according to his philofophy, implies 
nothing more than a conftant conjunction obfer- 
ved between the caufe and the efFedt, and there- 
fore contiguity muft include caufation, and his 
three principles of attraction are reduced to two. 

But when we take all the three, the enume- 
ration is in reality very incomplete. Every re- 
lation of tilings has a tendency, more or lefs, to 
lead the thought, in a thinking mind, from one 
to the other ; and not only every relation, but 
every kind of contrariety and oppofition. What 
Mr Hume fays, that contrariety may perhaps be 
confidered as a mixture " of caufation and re- 
" femblance," I can as little comprehend as if 
he had faid that figure may perhaps be confider- 
ed as a mixture of colour and found. 

Our thoughts pafs eafily from the end to the 
means •, from any truth to the evidence on which 
it is founded, the confequences that may be 
drawn from it, or the ufe that may be made of 

Vol. II. G it. 

98 ESSAY IV. [CHAP. 4, 

it. From a parr we are eafily led to think of the 
whole, from a fubject to its qualities, or from 
things related to the relation. Such transitions 

in thinking muit have been made thouiands of 
times by every man who thinks and reafons, 
and thereby become, as it were, beaten tracks 

for the imagination. 

Not only the relations of objects to each o- 
ther influence our train of thinking, but the re- 
lation they bear to the prefent temper and dif- 
pofition of the mind ; their relation to the ha- 
bits we have acquired, whether moral or intel- 
lectual ; to the company we have kept, and to 
the buiinefs in which we have been chiefly em- 
ployed. The fame event will fuggeil very dif- 
ferent reflections to different perfons, and to 
the fame perlon at different times, according as 
he is in good or bad humour, as he is lively or 
dull, angry or pleafed, melancholy or cheerful. 

Lord Kames, in his Elements of Criticifm, 
and Dr Gerard in his Efiay on Genius, have 
given a much fuller and juiter enumeration of 
the caufes that influence our train of thinking, 
and I have nothing to add to what they have 
faid on this fubject, 

Secondly, Let us conlider how far this attrac- 
tion of ideas muff be refolved into original qua- 
lities of human nature, 

I believe the original principles of the mind, 
of which we can give no account, but that fuch 



is our conftitution, are more in number than is 
commonly thought. But we ought not to muU 
tiply them without neceffity. 

That trains of thinking, which by frequent 
repetition have become familiar, ihould fponta- 
neoufly offer themfelves to our fancy, feems to 
require no other original quality but the power 
of habit. 

In all rational thinking, and in all rational 
difcourfe, whether ferious or facetious, the 
thought muft have fome relation to what went 
before. Every man, therefore, from the dawn 
of reafon, muft have been accuftomed to a train 
of related objects. Thefe pleafe the underlland- 
ing, and by cufhom become like beaten tracks 
which invite the traveller. 

As far as it is in our power to give a direction 
to our thoughts, which it is, undoubtedly, in a 
great degree, they will be directed by the ac- 
tive principles common to men, by our appe- 
tites, our pailions, our affections, our reafon, and 
conference. And that the trains of thinking in 
our minds are chieflv governed by thefe, ac- 
cording as one or another prevails at the time,- 
every man will find in his experience. 

If the mind is at any time vacant from every 
paffion and deli re, there are ilill fome objects 
that are more acceptable to us than others. The 
facetious man is pleafed with furpriling iimili- 
tudes or contrails ; the Philofopher with the re- 
G 2 lations 

100 ESSAY IV. [CHAP. 4, 

lations of things that are fubfervient to reafon- 
ing ; the Merchant with what tends to profit ; 
and the Politician with what may mend the 
ft ate. 

A good writer of comedy or romance can 
feign a train of thinking for any of the perfons of 
his fable, which appears very natural, and is ap- 
proved by the beft judges. Now, what is it that 
entitles fuch a fidion to approbation ? Is it that 
the author has given a nice attention to the re- 
lations of caufation, contiguity, and limilitude 
in the ideas ? This, furely, is the leaft part of 
its merit. But the chief part confifts in this, 
that it correfponds perfe&ly with the general 
character, the rank, the habits, the prefent fitua- 
tion and paffions of the perfon. - If this be a juft 
way of judging in criticifm, it follows neceffa- 
rily, that the circumftances laft mentioned have 
the chief influence in fuggefting our trains of 

It cannot be denied, that the ftate of the bo- 
dy has an influence upon our imagination, ac- 
cording as a man is fober or drunk, as he is fa- 
tigued or refrefhed. Crudities and indigeftion 
are faid to give uneafy dreams, and have proba- 
bly a like effect upon the waking thoughts. O- 
pium gives to fome perfons pleafing dreams, and 
pleaiing imaginations when awake, and to others 
fuch as are horrible and diftreffing. 



Thefe influences of the body upon the mind 
can only be known by experience, and I believe 
we can give no account of them. 

Nor can we, perhaps, give any reafon why 
we muft think without ceafing while we are 
awake. I believe we are likewife originally difpo- 
fed, in imagination, to pafs from any one object 
of thought to others that are contiguous to it in 
time or place. This, I think, may be obferved 
in brutes and in idiots, as well as in children, 
before any habit can be acquired that might ac- 
count for it. The light of an object is apt to 
fuggeit to the imagination what has been feen 
or felt in conjunction with it, even when the 
memory of that conjunction is gone. 

Such conjunctions of things influence not on- 
ly the imagination, but the belief and the paf- 
lions, efpecially in children and in brutes ; and 
perhaps all that we call memory in brutes, is 
ibmething of this kind. 

They expect events in the fame order and fuc- 
ceffion in which they happened before ; and by 
this expectation, their actions and paffions, as 
well as their thoughts, are regulated, A horfe 
takes fright at the place where ibme objecl: 
frighted him before. We are apt to conclude 
from this, that he remembers the former acci- 
dent. But perhaps there is only an aflbciation 
formed in his mind between the place and the 
G 3 paffion 

102 ESSAY IV. [CHAP. 4. 

paffion of fear, without any diftincT: remem- 

Mr Locke has given lis a very good chapter 
upon the affociation of ideas ; and by the ex- 
amples he has given to illuflrate this doctrine, I 
think it appears that very ftrong afTociations may 
be formed at once ; not of ideas to ideas only, 
but of ideas to paffions and- emotions ; and that 
ftrong aflbciations are never formed at once, but 
when accompanied by fome ftrong paffion of 
emotion. I believe this muft be refolved into- 
the conftitution of our nature. 

Mr Hume's opinion, that the complex ideas, 
which are the common objects of difcourle and 
reafoning, are formed by thofe original attrac- 
tions of ideas, to which he afcribes the train of 
thoughts in the mind, will come under confide - 
ration in another place. 

To put an end to our remarks upon this theo- 
ry of Mr Hume, I think he has real merit in 
bringing this curious fubject under the view of 
Philofophers, and carrying it a certain length. 
But I fee nothing in this theory that mould hin- 
der us to conclude, that every thing in the 
trains of our thought, which bears the marks of 
judgment and reafon, has been the product of 
judgment and reafon previoully exercifed, either 
by the perfon himfelf at that or fome former 
time, or by fome other perfon. The attraction 
of ideas will be the fame in a man's fecond 



thoughts upon any fubject as in his firft. Or if 
fome change in his circumftances, or in the ob- 
jects about him, fhould make any change in the 
attractions of his ideas, it is any equal chance 
whether the fecond be better than the firft, or 
whether they be worfe. But it is certain, that 
every man of judgment and talte will, upon a 
review, correct, that train of thought which firft 
prefented itielf. If the attractions of ideas are 
the fole caufes of the regular arrangement of 
thought in the fancy, there is no ufe for judg- 
ment or tafte in any compofition, nor indeed 
any room for their operation. 

There are Gther reflections of a more practi- 
cal nature, and of higher importance, to which 
this fubject leads. 

I believe it will be allowed by every man, 
that our happinefs or mifery in life, that our im- 
provement in any art or fcience which we pro- 
fefs, and that our improvement in real virtue and 
goodnefs, depend in a very great degree on the 
train of thinking, that occupies the mind both 
in our vacant and in our more ferious hours. 
As far, therefore, as the direction of our thoughts 
is in our power, (and that it is loin a great mea- 
fure, cannot be doubted), it is of the lait impor- 
tance to give them that direction which is mod 
fubfervient to thofe valuable purpofes. 

What enjoyment can he have worthy of a 

man, whofe imagination is occupied only about 

G 4 things 

164 E S S A T IV. [CHAP. 4. 

things low and bafe, and grovels in a narrow- 
field of mean unanimating and uninterefting ob- 
jects, infenfible to thofe finer and more delicate 
fentiments, and blind to thofe more enlarged 
and nobler views which elevate the foul, and 
make it confcious of its dignity. 

How different from him, whofe imagination, 
like an eagle in her flight, takes a wide profpeci, 
and obferves whatever it prefents, that is new or 
beautiful, grand or important ; whofe rapid 
wing varies the fcene every moment, carrying 
him fometimes through the fairy regions of wit 
and fancy, fometimes through the more regular 
and fober walks of fcience and philofophy. 

The various objects which he furveys, accord- 
ing to their different degrees of beauty and dig- 
nity, raife in him the lively and agreeable emo- 
tions of tafle. Illuitrious human characters, as 
they pafs in review, clothed with their moral 
qualities, touch his heart (till more deeply. They 
not only awaken the fenfe of beauty, but excite 
the fentiment of approbation, and kindle the 
glow of virtue. 

While he views what is truly great and glo- 
rious in human conduct, his foul catches the 
divine flame, and burns with defire to emulate 
what it admires. 

The human imagination is an ample theatre, 
upon which every thing in human life, good or 
bad, great or mean, laudable or bafe, is acted. 



In children, and in fome frivolous minds, it 
is a mere toy-mop. And in fome, who exer- 
eife their memory without their judgment, its 
furniture is made up of old fcraps of knowledge^ 
that are thread-bare and worn out. 

In fome, this theatre is often occupied by 
ghaftly fuperitition, with all her train of Gor- 
dons, and Hydras, and Chimeras dire. Some- 
times .; is haunted with all the infernal demons,, 
and made the forge of plots, and rapine, and 
murder. Here every thing that is black and de- 
teftable is firft contrived, and a thoufand wick- 
ed defigns conceived that are never executed* 
Here, too, the Furies act their part, taking a fe- 
vere, though fecret vengeance upon the felf- 
condemned criminal. 

How happy is that mind, in which the light 
of real knowledge difpels the phantoms of fu- 
peritition : In which the belief and reverence 
of a perfect all-governing Mind cafts out all 
fear but the fear of acting wrong : In which fe- 
renity and cheerfulnefs, innocence, humanity* 
and candour, guard the imagination againft the 
entrance of every unhallowed intruder, and in- 
vite more amiable and worthier guefts to 
dwell ? 

There mall the Mufes, the Graces, and the 
Virtues, fix their abode ; for every thing that 
is great and worthy in human conduct mull 


106 ESSAY IV. [CHAP. 4. 

have been conceived in the imagination before 
it was brought into a6t. And many great and 
good defigns have been formed there, which, 
for want of power and opportunity, have proved 

The man, whofe imagination is occupied by 
thefe guefts, muft be wife ; he muft be good ; 
and he muft be happy. 




Of Gsneral Words. 

THE words we ufe in language are either 
general words, or proper names. Proper 
names are intended to fignify one individual on- 
ly. Such are the names of men, kingdoms, pro- 
vinces, cities, rivers, and of every other creature 
of God, or work of man, which we choofe to di- 
ftinguim from all others of the kind, by a name 
appropriated to it. All the other words of Ian- 
guage are general words, not appropriated to 
fignify any one individual thing, but equally re- 
lated to many. 

Under general words therefore, I comprehend 
not only thofe which Logicians call general 
terms, that is, fuch general words as may make 
the fubjeft or the predicate of a propofition, but 

like wife 

108 ZSSAY v. [chap. I, 

likewife their auxiliaries or acceffbries, as the 
learned Mr Harris calls them ; fuch as prepo- 
fitions, conjunctions, articles, which are all ge- 
neral words, though they cannot properly be 
called general terms. 

In every language, rude or polifhed, general 
words make the greateft part, and proper names 
the leaft. Grammarians have reduced all words 
to eight or nine clafTes, which are called parts of 
fpeech. Of thefe there is only one, to wit, that 
of nouns, wherein proper names are found. All 
pronouns, 'verbs, participles, adverbs, articles, pre- 
pojltions, conjunctions, and interjections, are ge- 
neral words. Of nouns, all adjecHves are general 
w r ords, and the greater part offubjlantives. Every 
fubftantive that ha? a plaral number, is a gene- 
ral word ; for no proper name can have a plural 
number, becaufe it lignifies only one individual. 
In all the fifteen books of Euclid's Elements, 
there is not one word that is not general ; and 
the fame may be faid of many large volumes. 

At the fame time it muft be acknowledged, 
that all the objects we perceive are individuals. 
Every object of fenfe, of memory, or of confci- 
oufnefs. is an individual object. All the good 
things we enjoy or defire, and all the evils we 
feel or fear, muft come from individuals ; and I 
think we may venture to fay, that every creature 
which God has made, in the heavens above, or 



in the earth beneath, or in the waters under- the 
earth, is an individual. 

How comes it to pafs then, that in all lan- 
guages general words make the greateft part of 
the language, and proper names but a very fmall 
and inconfiderable part of it ? 

This feemingly ftrange phenomenon may, I 
think, be eafily accounted for by the following 

Firft, Though there be a few individuals that 
are obvious to the notice of all men, and there- 
fore have proper names in all languages ; fuch 
as the fun and moon, the earth and fea ; yet the 
greateft part of the things to which we think fit 
to give proper names are local \ known perhaps 
to a village or to a neighbourhood, but unknown 
to the greater part of thofe who fpeak the fame 
language, and to all the reft of mankind. The 
names of fuch things being confined to a corner, 
and having no names anfwering to them in other 
languages, are not accounted a part of the lan- 
guage, any more than the cufloms of a particular 
hamlet are accounted part of the law of the 

For this reafon, there are but few proper 
names that belong to a language. It is next to 
be confidered why there muft be many general 
words in every language. 

Secondly, It may be obferved, that every indi- 
vidual objecl: that falls within our view has va- 

110 ESSAY V. [CHAP. I. 

r; >us attributes ; and it is by them that it be- 
comes ufeful or hurtful to us : We know not the 
effence of any individual objecT: ; all the know- 
ledge we can attain of it, is the knowledge of 
its attributes ; its quantity, its various qualities, 
its various relations to other things, its place, its 
fituation, and motions. It is by fuch attributes 
of things only that we can communicate our 
knowledge of them to others : By their attri- 
butes, our hopes or fears from them are regulat- 
ed ; and it is only by attention to their attributes 
that we can make them fubfervient to our ends j 
and therefore we give names to fuch attributes. 

Now all attributes mult from their nature be 
expreffed by general words, and are fo expreffed 
in all languages. In the ancient philofophy, atr 
tributes in general were called by two names 
which exprefs their nature. They were called 
univerfals, becaufe they might belong equally to. 
many individuals, and are not confined to one : 
They were alfo called predicables, becaufe what- 
ever is predicated, that is, affirmed or denied of 
one fubjecl, may be, of more, and therefore is 
an univerfal, and expreffed by a general word. 
A predicable therefore fignifies the fame thing 
as an attribute, with this difference only, that 
the firft is Latin, the laft Englifh. The attri- 
butes we find either in the creatures of God, or 
in the works of men, are common to many in- 
dividuals : We either find it to be fo, or prefume 



it may be fo, and give them the fame name in 
every fubject to which they belong. 

There are not only attributes belonging to in- 
dividual fubjects, but there are likewife attri- 
butes of attributes, which may be called fecon- 
dary attributes. Moll attributes are capable of 
different degrees, and different modifications, 
which muft be expreffed by general words. 

Thus it is an attribute of many bodies to be 
moved ; but motion may be in an endlefs variety 
of directions. It may be quick or flow, recti- 
lineal or curvilineal ; it may be equable, or ac- 
celerated, or retarded. 

As all attributes, therefore, whether primary 
or fecondary, are expreffed by general words, it 
follows, that in every proposition we exprefs in 
language, what is affirmed or denied of the fub- 
ject, of the propofition muft be expreffed by ge- 
neral words : And that the fubject of the propo- 
sition may often be a general word, will appear 
from the next obfervation. 

Thirdly, The fame faculties by which we di- 
ftinguifh the different attributes belonging to 
the fame fubject, and give names to' them, en- 
able us likewife to obferve, that many fubjects 
agree in certain attributes, while they differ in 
others. By this means we are enabled to re- 
duce individuals which are infinite, to a limited 
number of claffes, which are called kinds and 

forts : 

112 ESSAY V. [CHAP. I. 

forts ; and in the fcholaftic language, genera and 

Obferving many individuals to agree in cer- 
tain attributes, we refer them all to one clafs, 
and give a name to the clafs : This name com- 
prehends in its fignification not one attribute on- 
ly, but all the attributes which diftinguifh that 
clafs ; and by affirming this name of any indivi- 
dual, we affirm it to have all the attributes which 
characterize the clafs : Thus men, dogs, horfes^ 
elephants, are fo many different claffes of ani- 
mals. In like manner we marfhal other fub- 
ftances, vegetable and inanimate, into claffes. 

Nor is it only fubftances that we thus form in- 
to claffes. We do the fame with regard to qua- 
lities, relations, act ions, affections, paffions, and 
all other things. 

When a clafs is very large, it is divided into 
fubordinate claffes in the fame manner. The 
higher clafs is called a genus or kind ; the low- 
er a /pedes or fort of the higher : Sometimes a 
fpecies is Hill fubdivkled into fubordinate fpecies - % 
and this fubdivifion is carried on as far as is 
found convenient for the purpofe of language, 
or for the improvement of knowledge. 

In this diftribution of things into genera and 
/pedes, it is evident that the name of the fpecies 
comprehends more attributes than the name of 
the genus. The fpecks comprehends all that is 
in the genus, and thofe attributes likewife which 



diftinguifh that fpecies from others belonging to 
the fame genus ; and the more fubdivifions we 
make, the names of the lower become ftill the 
more compreheniive in their fignification, but 
the lefs extenfive in their application to indivi- 

Hence it is an axiom in logic, that the more 
extenfive any general term is, it is the lefs com- 
preheniive ; and on the contrary, the more com- 
preheniive, the lefs extenfive : Thus, in the fol- 
lowing feries of fubordinate general terms, ani- 
mal, man, Frenchman, Parifian, every fubfequent. 
term comprehends in its fignification all that is 
in the preceding, and fomething more ; and 
every antecedent term extends to more indivi- 
duals than the fubfequent. 

Such di virions and fubdivifions of things into 
genera and fpecies with general names, are not 
confined to the learned and polifhed languages ; 
they are found in thofe of the rudeft tribes of 
mankind : From which we learn, that the in- 
vention and the ufe of general words, both to 
fignify the attributes of things, and to fignify 
the genera and fpecies of things, is not a fubtile 
invention of Philofophers, but an operation which 
all men perform by the light of common f?nfe. 
Philofophers may fpeculate about this operation, 
and reduce it to canons and aphorifms ; but 
men of common underftanding, without know- 
ing any thing of the philofophy of it, can put it 

Vol. II. H in 

114 ESSAY V. [CHAP. I, 

in practice ; in like manner as they can fee ob- 
jects, and make good ufe of their eyes, although 
they know nothing of the ftructure of the eye, 
or of the theory of vifion. 

Every genus, and every fpecies of things, may 
be either the fubjecl: or the predicate of a propo- 
rtion, nay of innumerable propofitions ; for 
every attribute common to the genus or fpecies 
may be affirmed of it ; and the genus may be 
affirmed of every fpecies, and both genus and 
fpecies of every individual to which it extends. 

Thus of man it may be affirmed, that he is an 
animal made up of body and mind ; that he is 
of few days, and full of trouble ; that he is cap- 
able of various improvements in arts, in know- 
ledge, and in virtue. In a word, every thing 
common to the fpecies may be affirmed of man ', 
and of all fuch propofitions, which are innumer- 
able, man is the fubjecl:. 

Again, of every nation and tribe, and of every 
individual of the human race that is, or was, or 
fhall be, it may be affirmed that they are men. 
In all fuch propofitions, which are innumerable, 
man is the predicate of the proposition. 

We obferved above an exteniion and a com- 
prehension in general terms ; and that in any 
fubdivifion of things the name of the loweft 
fpecies is moll comprehenfive, and that of the 
higheft genus moft extenfive. I would now ob- 
ferve, that, by means of fuch general terms, there 



is alfo an extenfion and comprehenfion of pro- 
pofitions, which is one of the nobleft powers of 
language, and fits it for exprefling, with great 
eafe and expedition, the higheft attainments in 
knowledge, of which the human understanding 
is capable. 

When the predicate is a genus or & fpecies, 
the propolition is more or lefs comprehenfive, 
according as the predicate is. Thus, when I fay 
that this feal is gold, by this fingle propolition, 
I affirm of it all the properties which that metal 
is known to have. When I fay of any man that 
he is a Mathematician, this appellation compre- 
hends all the attributes that belong to him as an 
animal, as a man, and as one who has ftudied 
mathematics. When I fay that the orbit of the 
planet Mercury is an eilipfis, I thereby affii £ 
that orbit all the properties which Apollonius 
and other Geometricians have difcovered, or may 
difcover, of that fpecies of figure. 

Again, when the fubjec"t of a propofition is a 
genus or a fpecies, the propofition is more or lefs 
extenfive, according as the fubjecl: is. Thus 
when I am taught, that the three angles of a 
plane triangle are equal to two right angles, 
this property extends to every fpecies of plane 
triangle, and to every individual plane triangle 
that did, or does, or can exift. 

It is by means of fuch extenfive and compre- 

jfyenfive proportions that human knowledge is 

JI 2 condenfed.. 


condenfed, as it were, into a lize adapted to the 
capacity of the human mind, with great addi- 
tion to its beauty, and without any diminution 
of its diftinctnefs and perfpicuity. 

General propolitions in fcience may be com- 
pared to the feed of a plant, which, according to 
fome Philofophers, has not only the whole fu- 
ture plant inclofed within it, but the feeds of 
that plant, and the plants that mall fpring from 
them through all future generations. 

But the fimilitude falls fhort in this refpect, 
that time and accidents, not in our power, muft 
concur to difclofe the contents of the feed, and 
bring them into our view ; whereas the contents 
of a general propoiition may be brought forth, 
ripened, and expofed to view at our pleafure, 
and in an inftant. 

Thus the wifdom of ages, and the moil fub- 
lime theorems of fcience, may be laid up, like an 
Iliad in a nut-fhell, and tranfmitted to future 
generations. And this noble purpofe of lan- 
guage can only be accomplifhed, by means of 
general words annexed to the divilions and fub- 
divifions of things. 

What has been faid in this chapter, I think, 
is fufficient to mew, that there can be no lan- 
guage, not fo much as a fingle propoiition, with- 
out general words ; that they mull make the 
greateft part of every language, and that it is by 
them only that languge is fitted to exprefs, with 



wonderful eafe and expedition, all the treafures 
of human wifdom and knowledge. 


Of general Conceptions. 

AS general words are fo neceffary in lan- 
guage, it is natural to conclude that there 
muit be general conceptions, of which they are 
the ligns. 

Words are empty founds when they do not 
fignify the thoughts of the fpeaker ; and it is 
only from their fignification that they are deno- 
minated general. Every word that is fpoken, 
conlidered merely as a found, is an individual 
found. And it can only be called a general 
word, becaufe that which it iignifies is general. 
Now, that which it iignifies, is conceived by the 
mind both of the fpeaker and hearer, if the word 
have a diftincl meaning, and be diftinctly un- 
derftood. It is therefore impoflible that words 
can have a general fignification, unlefs there be 
conceptions in the mind of the fpeaker, and of 
the hearer, of things that are general. It is to 
fuch that I give the name of general conceptions : 
And it ought to be obferved, that they take this 
denomination, not from the adt of the mind in 
H 3 conceiving. 

Il8 ESSAY V. [CHAP. 2, 

conceiving, which is an individual act, but from 
the object or thing conceived, which is general. 

We are therefore here to confider whether 
we have fuch general conceptions, and how tifey 
are formed. 

To begin with the conceptions exprelTed by 
general terms, that is, by fuch general words as 
may be the fubject or the predicate of a propo- 
fition. They are either attributes of things, or 
they are genera or /pedes of things. 

It is evident, with refpect to all the individuals 
we are acquainted with, that we have a more 
clear and diflinct conception of their attributes, 
than of the fubject to which thofe attributes be- 

Take, for inflance, any individual body we 
have accefs to know, what conception do we 
form of it ? Every man may know this from his 
confcioufnefs. He will find that he conceives 
it as a thing that has length, breadth, and thick- 
nefs, fuch a figure, and fuch a colour j that it is 
hard, or foft, or fluid ; that it has fuch qualities, 
and is fit for fuch purpofes, If it is a vegetable, 
he may know where it grew, what is the form 
of its leaves, and flower, and feed. If an ani- 
mal, what are its natural inftincts, its manner of 
life, and of rearing its young : Of thefe attri- 
butes belonging to this individual, and number- 
lefs others, he may furely have a diflinct con- 
ception j and he will find words in language by 



which he can clearly and diftin&ly exprefs each 
of them. 

If we confider, in like manner, the conception 
we form of any individual perfon of our ac- 
quaintance, we mall find it to be made up of 
various attributes, which we afcribe to him ; fuch 
as, that he is the fon of fuch a man, the brother 
of fuch another, that he has fuch an employ- 
ment or office, has fuch a fortune, that he is tall 
or fhort, well or ill made, comely or ill favoured, 
young or old, married or unmarried ; to this we 
may add, his temper, his character, his abilities, 
and perhaps fome anecdotes of his hiftory. 

Such is the conception we form of individual 
perforts of our acquaintance. By fuch attributes 
we defcribe them to thofe who know them not ; 
and by fuch attributes Hiftorians give us a con- 
ception of the perfonages of former times. Nor 
is it poffible to do it in any other way. 

All the diftincl: knowledge we have or can at- 
tain of any individual, is the knowledge of its 
attributes : For we know not the eiTence of any 
individual. This feems to be beyond the reach 
of the human faculties. 

Now, every attribute is what the ancients 
called an univerfal. It is, or may be, common 
to various individuals. There is no attribute 
belonging to any creature of God which may 
not belong to others \ and, on this account, at- 
H 4 tributes, 

120 ESSAY V. [CHAP. 2. 

tributes, in all languages, are expreffed by ge- 
neral words. 

It appears likewife, from every man's expe- 
rience, that he may have as clear and diftincl: a 
conception of fuch attributes as we have named, 
and of innumerable others, as he can have of any 
individual to which they belong. 

Indeed, the attributes of individuals is all that 
we diftincUy conceive about them. It is true, 
we conceive a fubject to which the attributes 
belong ; but of this fubject, when its attri- 
butes are fet afide, we have but an obfcure 
and relative conception, whether it be body or 

This was before obferved with regard to bo- 
dies, Eflay II. chap. 19. to which we refer, and 
it is no lefs evident with regard to minds. What 
is it we call a mind ? It is a thinking, intelli- 
gent, active being. Granting that thinking, in- 
telligence, and activity, are attributes of mind, 
I want to know what the thing or being is to 
which thefe attributes belong ? To this queftion 
I can find no fatisfying anfwer. The attributes 
of mind, and particularly its operations, we 
know clearly 5 but of the thing itfelf we have 
only an obfcure notion. 

Nature teaches us, that thinking and reafoning 
are attributes, which cannot exift without a fub- 
jed ; but of that fubjedt I believe the beft no- 


tion we can form implies little more than that it 
is the fubjecl of fuch attributes. 

Whether other created beings may have the 
knowledge of the real effence of created things, 
fo as to be able to deduce their attributes from 
their effence and conftitution, or whether this be 
the prerogative of him who made them, we can- 
not tell ; but it is a knowledge which feems to 
be quite beyond the reach of the human fa- 

We know the effence of a triangle, and from 
that effence can deduce its properties. It is an 
univerfal, and might have been conceived by 
the human mind, though no individual triangle 
had ever exilted. It has only what Mr Locke 
calls a nominal effence, which is expreifed in its 
definition. But every thing that exifts has a 
real effence, which is above our comprehenlion ; 
and therefore we cannot deduce its properties or 
attributes from its nature, as we do in the 
triangle. We muff take a contrary road in the 
knowledge of God's works, and fatisfy ourfelves 
with their attributes as fa els, and w T ith the gene- 
ral conviclion that there is a .fubjecl to which 
thofe attributes belong. 

Enough, I think, has been faid, to mow, not 
only that we may have clear and diftincl con- 
ceptions of attributes, but that they are the only 
things, with regard to individuals, of which we 
have a clear and diftincl conception, 


Ill ESSAY V. [CHAP. 2. 

The* other clafs of general terms are thofe 
that fignify the genera and /pedes into which we 
divide and fubdivide things. And if we be able 
to form diftinct conceptions of attributes, it can- 
not furely be denied that we may have diftinct 
conceptions of genera and fpecies; becaufe they 
are only collections of attributes which we con- 
ceive to exift in a fubject, and to which we give 
a general name. If the attributes comprehend- 
ed under that general name be diftinclly con- 
ceived, the thing meant by the name muil be 
diftinclly conceived. And the name may juftiy 
be attributed to every individual which has 
thofe attributes. 

, Thus, I conceive diftinclly what it is to have 
wings, to be covered with feathers, to lay eggs. 
Suppofe then that we give the name of bird to 
every animal that has thefe three attributes. 
Here undoubtedly my conception of a bird is as 
diftinct as my notion of the attributes which are 
common to this fpecies : And if this be admitted 
to be the definition of a bird, there is nothing I 
conceive more diftinclly. If I had never feen a 
bird, and made to underftand the de- 
finition, I can eafily apply it to every individual 
of the fpecies, without danger of miftake. 

When things are divided and fubdivided by 
men of fcience, and names given to the genera 
and fpecies y thofe names are defined. Thus, the 
genera and fpecies of plants, and of other na- 


tural bodies, are accurately defined by the wri- 
ters in the various branches of natural hiftory ; 
fo that, to all future generations, the definition 
will convey a diftinct notion of the genus or 
fpecies defined. 

There are, without doubt, many words fig- 
nifying genera and fpecies of things, which have 
a meaning fomewhat vague and indiftincl: ; fo 
that thofe who fpeak the fame language do not 
always ufe them in the fame fenfe. But if we 
attend to the caufe of this indiftindlnefs, we lhall 
find, that it is not owing to their being general 
terms, but to this, that there is no definition 
of them that has authority. Their meaning, 
therefore, has not been learned by a definition, 
but by a kind of induction, by obferving to what 
individuals they are applied by thofe who un- 
derftand the language. We learn by habit to 
ufe them as we fee others do, even when we 
have not a precife meaning annexed to them. 
A man may know, that to certain individuals 
they may be applied with propriety ; but whe- 
ther they can be applied to certain other indi- 
viduals, he may be uncertain, either from want 
of good authorities, or from having contrary au- 
thorities, which leave him in doubt. 

Thus, a man may know, that when he applies 
the name of beaft to a lion or a tyger, and the 
name of bird to an eagle or a turkey, he fpeaks 
properly. But whether a bat be a bird or a 


124 ESSAY V. [CHAP. 2. 

beaft, he may be uncertain. If there was any 
accurate definition of a beaft and of a bird, that 
was of fufficient authority, he could be at no 

It is faid to have been fometimes a matter of 
difpute, with regard to a monftrous birth of a 
woman, whether it was a man or not. Although 
this be in reality a queftion about the meaning 
of a word, it may be of importance, on -account 
of the privileges which laws have annexed to the 
human character. To make fuch laws perfectly 
precife, the definition of a man would be necef- 
fary, which I believe Legiflators have feldom or 
never thought fit to give. It is, indeed, very 
difficult to hx a definition of fo common a word, 
and the cafes wherein it would be of any ufe fo 
rarely occur, that perhaps it may be better, when 
they do occur, to leave them to the determina- 
tion of a judge or of a jury, than to give a defi- 
nition, which might be attended with unforefeen 

A genus or fpecies, being a collection of at- 
tributes, conceived to exift in one fubject, a de- 
finition is the only way to prevent any addition 
or diminution of its ingredients in the concep- 
tion of different perfons ; and when there is no 
definition that can be appealed to as a ftandard, 
the name will hardly retain the moil perfect pre- 
cifion in its fignification. 



From what has been faid, I conceive it is evi- 
dent, that the words which fignify genera and 
fpecies of things have often as precife and defi- 
nite a iignification as any words whatsoever ; and 
that when it is otherwife, their want of preciiion' 
is not owing to their being general words, but 
to other caufes. 

Having (hewn that we may have a perfectly 
clear and diftincl: conception of the meaning of 
general terms, we may, I think, take it for 
granted, that the fame may be faid of other ge- 
neral words, fuch as prepofitions, conjunctions, 
articles. My defign at prefent being only to 
ihew, that we have general conceptions no lefs 
clear and diftinct than thofe of individuals, it is 
Sufficient for this purpofe, if this appears with 
regard to the conceptions expreiTed by general 
terms. To conceive the meaning of a general 
word, and to conceive that which it fignifies, is 
the fame thing. We conceive diftinctly the 
meaning of general terms, therefore we conceive 
diftinclly that which they fignify. But fuch 
terms do not fignify any individual, but what is 
common to many individuals ; therefore we have 
a diftincl conception of things common to many 
individuals, that is, we have diftincl general con- 

We muft here beware of the ambiguity of 
the word conception, which fometimes fignifies 
the act of the mind in conceiving, fometimes the 


126 eSsay v. [chap. 2. 

thing conceived, which is the object of that ad. 
If the word be taken in the firft ienfe, I acknow- 
ledge that every act of the mind is an indivi- 
dual act ; the ur iverfality, therefore, is not in 
the ad of the mind, but in the object, or thing 
conceived. The thing conceived is an attribute 
common to many fubjects, or it is a genus or 
ipecies common to many individuals. 

Suppofe I conceive a triangle, that is, a plain 
figure terminated by three right lines. He that 
underltands this definition distinctly has a di- 
ftinct conception of a triangle. But a triangle 
is not an individual ; it is a ipecies. The act of 
my understanding in conceiving it is an indivi- 
dual act, and has a real existence : but the thing 
conceived is general, and cannot exift without 
other attributes, which are not included in the 

Every triangle that really exiits muft have a 
certain length of fides and meafure of angles ; it 
mult have place and time. But the definition of 
a triangle includes neither exiftence, nor any of 
thofe attributes ; and therefore they are not in- 
cluded in the conception of a triangle, which 
cannot be accurate if it comprehend more than 
the definition. 

Thus I think it appears to be evident, that we 
have general conceptions that are clear and dif- 
tinct, both of attributes of things, and of genera 
and fpecies of things, 




Of general Conceptions formed by anahfing Objetls. 

WE are next to confider the operations of 
the underftanding, by which we are en- 
abled to form general conceptions. 

Thefe appear to me to be three ; firfl, The 
refolving or analyling a fubject into its known 
attributes, and giving a name to each attribute, 
which name (hall fignify that attribute, and no- 
thing more. 

Secondly, The obferving one or more fuch at- 
tributes to be common to many fubjects. The 
iirft is by Philofophers called abjlr action ; the 
fecond may be called generalijing ; but both are 
commonly included under the name of abjlr ac- 

It is difficult to fay which of them goes firft, 
or whether they are not fo clofely connected that 
neither can claim the precedence. For on the 
one hand, to perceive an agreement between two 
or more objects in the fame attribute, feems to 
require nothing more than to compare them to- 
gether. A ravage, upon feeing fnow and chalk, 
would find no difficulty in perceiving that they 
have the fame colour. Yet, on the other hand, 
it feems impoffihle that he mould obferve this 


128 ESSAY V. [CHAP. 3. 

agreement without abstraction, that is, distin- 
guishing in his conception the colour, wherein 
thofe two objects agree, from the other qualities 
wherein they difagree. 

It feems therefore, that we cannot generalife 
without fome degree of abstraction ; but I ap- 
prehend we may abstract without generalifmg : 
For what hinders me from attending to the 
whitenefs of the paper before me, without ap- 
plying that colour to any other object : The 
whitenefs of this individual object is an ab- 
stract conception, but nGt a general one, while 
applied to one individual only. Thefe two 
operations, however, are fubfervient to each 
other ; for the more attributes we obferve and 
distinguish in any one individual, the more agree- 
ments w 7 e mail difcover between it and other in- 

A third operation of the understanding, by 
which we form abftract conceptions, is the com- 
bining into one whole a certain number of thofe 
attributes of which we have formed abftract no- 
tions, and giving a name to that combination. 
It is thus we form abstract notions of the genera 
and fpecies of things. Thefe three operations we 
fhall confider in order. 

With regard to abstraction, Strictly fo called, 
I can perceive nothing in it that is difficult ei- 
ther to be underftood or practifed. What can 
be more eafy than to diftinguifh the different at- 


tributes which we know to belong to a fubject ? 
In a man, for inftance, to diftinguifti his fize, his 
complexion, his age, his fortune, his birth, his 
prpfeffion, and twenty other things that belong 
to him. To think andffpeak of thefe things with 
underftanding, is furely within the reach of eve- 
ry man endowed with the human faculties. 

There may be diftinctions that require nice 
difcernment, or an acquaintance with the fubject 
that is not common. Thus, a critic in painting 
may difcern the ftyle of Raphael or Titian, 
when another man could not. A lawyer may 
be acquainted with many diftinctions in crimes, 
and contracts, and actions, which never occurred 
to a man who has not ftudied law. One man 
may excel another in the talent of diiiinguifhing, 
as he may in memory or in reafoning ; but there 
is a certain degree of this talent, without which 
a man would have no title to be confidered as a 
reafonable creature. 

It ought likewife to be obferved, that attributes 
may with perfect eafe be diftinguifhed and dis- 
joined in our conception, which cannot be ac- 
tually Separated in the fubject. Thus, in a 
body, I can diftinguifti its folidity from its exten- 
lion, and its weight from both. In extenfion I 
can diftinguifh length, breadth, and thicknefs, 
yet none of thefe can be feparated from the bo- 
dy, or from one another. There may be attri- 
butes belonging to a fubject, and infeparable 

Vol. II. I from 

13° ESSAY V, [CHAP. 3, 

from it, of which we have no knowledge, and 
confequently no conception ; but this does not 
hinder our conceiving diftincUy thole of its attri- 
butes which w T e know. 

Thus, all the properties of a circle are infepa- 
rable from the nature of a circle, and may be de- 
monilrated from its definition ; yet a man may 
have a perfectly diitind: notion of a circle, who 
knows very few of thofe properties of it which 
Mathematicians have demonilrated ; and a cir- 
cle probably has many properties which no Ma- 
thematician ever dreamed of. 

It is therefore certain, that attributes, which 
in their nature are absolutely infeparable from 
their fubject, and from one another, may be dif- 
joined in our conception ; one cannot exift with- 
out the other, but one can be conceived without 
the other. 

Having confidered abstraction, ftriclly fo call- 
ed, let us next confider the operation of genera- 
ting, which is nothing but the obferving one or 
more attributes to be common to many fubjects. 

If any man can doubt whether there be attri- 
butes that are really common to many individuals, 
let him conlider whether there be not many men 
that are. above fix feet high, and many below it j 
whether there be not many men that are rich, 
and many more that are poor ; whether there be 
not many that w T ere born in Britain, and many 
that were born in France. To multiply instances 



of this kind, would be to affront the reader's un- 
derftanding'. It is certain therefore, that there 
are innumerable attributes that are really com- 
mon to many individuals ; and if this be what 
the fchoolmen called univerfale a parte ret, we 
may affirm with certainty, that there are fuch 

There are fome attributes exprefTed by general 
words, of which this may feem more doubtful. 
Such are the qualities which are inherent in their 
feveral fubjedts. It may be faid that every fub- 
ject hath its own qualities, and that which is the 
quality of one fubject cannot be the quality of 
another fubject. Thus the whitenefs of the iheet 
of paper upon which I write, cannot be the 
whitenefs of another meet, though both are call- 
ed white. The weight of one guinea is not the 
weight of another guinea, though both are faid 
to have the fame weight. 

To this I anfwer, that the whitenefs of this 
Iheet is one thing, whitenefs is another ; the 
conceptions fignified by thefe two forms of fpeech 
are as different as the expreffions : The firfl lig- 
nites an individual quality really exifing, and 
is not a general conception, though it be an ab- 
ftracl one : The fecond fignifies a general con- 
ception, which implies no exiftence, but may be 
predicated of every thing that is white, and in 
the fame fenfe. On this account, if one mould 
fay, that the whitenefs of this iheet is the white- 

I 2 nefs 

I32 ESSAY V. [CHAP. 3. 

nefs of another fheet, every man perceives this 
to be abfurd ; but when he fays both meets are 
white, this is true and perfectly underftood. 
The conception of whitenefs implies no exift- 
ence \ it would remain the fame, though every 
thing in the univerfe that is white were annihila- 

It appears therefore, that the general names 
of qualities, as well as of other attributes, are 
applicable to many individuals in the fame 
fenfe, which cannot be if there be not general 
conceptions (ignified by fuch names. 

If it fhould be afked, how early, or at what 
period of life, men begin to form general con- 
ceptions ? I anfwer, As foon as a child can fay, 
with underftanding, that he has two brothers or 
two filters ; as foon as he can ufe the plural 
number, he muft have general conceptions ; for 
no individual can have a plural number. 

As there are not two individuals in nature 
that agree in every thing, fo there are very few 
that do not agree in fome things. We take plea- 
fure from very early years in obferving fuch 
agreements. One great branch of what we 
call wit, which when innocent, gives plea- 
fur e to every good natured man, confifts in dif- 
covering unexpected agreements in things. The 
author of Hudibras could difcern a property 
common to the morning and a boiled lobfter, 
that both turn from black to red, Swift could 



fee fomething common to wit and an old cheefe. 
Such unexpected agreements may fhew wit j but 
there are innumerable agreements of things 
which cannot efcape the notice of the loweft 
underflanding ; fuch as agreements in colour, 
magnitude, figure, features, time, place, age, and 
fo forth. Thefe agreements are the foundation 
of fo many common attributes, which are found 
in the rudeft languages. 

The ancient Philofophers called thefe, univer- 
fals, or predicables, and endeavoured to reduce 
them to five claiTes ; to wit, genus, fpecies, fpe- 
cific difference, properties, and accidents. Per- 
haps there may be more claffes of univerfals or 
attributes ; for enumerations, fo very general, 
are feldom complete ; but every attribute, com- 
mon to feveral individuals, may be exprefTed by 
a general term, which is the lign of a general 

How prone men are to form general concep- 
tions we may fee from the ufe of metaphor, and 
of the other figures of fpeech grounded on fimi- 
litude. Similitude is nothing elfe than an agree- 
ment of the objects compared in one or more 
attributes ; and if there be no attribute common 
to both, there can be no fimilitude. 

The fimilitudes and analogies between the 

various objects that nature prefents to us, are 

infinite and inexhaufiible. They not only pleafe, 

when difplayed by the Poet or Wit in works of 

I 3 tafte, 

134 essay v* [chap. 3* 

tafte, but they are highly ufeful in the ordinary 
communication of our thoughts and fentiments 
by language. In the rude languages of barba- 
rous nations, fimilitudes and analogies fupply the 
want of proper words to exprefs mens fentiments, 
fo much, that in fuch languages there is hardly 
a fentence without a metaphor ; and if we exa- 
mine the moft copious and polifhed languages, 
we fhall find that a great proportion of the words 
and phrafes which are accounted the moft proper, 
may be faid to be the progeny of metaphor. 

As foreigners, who fettle in a nation as their 
home, coine at laft to be incorporated,, and lofe 
the denomination of foreigners, fo words and 
phrafes, at firft borrowed and figurative, by 
long ufe become denizens in the language, and 
lofe the denomination of figures of fpeech. 
When we fpeak of the extent of knowledge, the 
fteadinefs of virtue, the tendernefs of affeclion, 
the perfpicuity of expreffion, no man conceives 
thefe to be metaphorical expreffions ; they are 
as proper as any in the language : Yet it appears 
upon the very face of them, that they muit have 
been metaphorical in thofe who ufed them firft ; 
and that it is by ufe and prefcription that they 
have loft the denomination of figurative, and ac- 
quired a right to be confidered as proper words. 
This obfervation will be found to extend to a 
great part, perhaps the greateft part, of the 
•words of the moft perfect languages : Sometimes 



the name of an individual is given to a general 
conception, and thereby the individual in a 
manner generalised. As when the Jew Shy- 
lock, in Shakespeare, fays, A Daniel come to 
judgment ; yea, a Daniel ! In this fpeech, a Da- 
niel is an attribute, or an univerfal. The cha- 
racter of Daniel, as a man of lingular wifdom, is 
abftracled from his perfon, and conlidered as ca^- 
pable of being attributed to other perfons. 

Upon the whole, thefe two operations of ab- 
flracring and generalifing appear common to all 
men that have underflanding. The practice of 
them is, and mult be, familiar to every man that 
ufes language ; but it is one thing to praclife 
them, and another to explain how they are per- 
formed ; as it is one thing to fee, another to ex- 
plain how we fee. The firft is the province 
of all men, and is the natural and eafy opera- 
tion of the faculties which God hath given us. 
The fecond is the province of Philofophers, and 
though a matter of no great difficulty in itfelf, 
has been much perplexed by the ambiguity of 
words, and ftiil more by the hypothefes of Phi- 

Thus when I conhder a billiard ball, its co- 
lour is one attribute, which I fignify by calling 
it white ; its figure is another, which is fignified 
by calling it fpherical ; the firm cohefion of its 
parts is fignified by calling it hard ; its recoil- 
ing, when it ftrikes a hard body, is fignified by 

I 4 its 

I36 ESSAY V. [CHAP. 3, 

its being called elaftic ; its origin, as being part of 
the tooth of an elephant, is fignified by calling 
it ivory ; and its ufe by calling it a billiard ball. 

The words, by which each of thofe attributes 
is iignified, have one diftinc~t meaning, and in 
this meaning are applicable to many individuals. 
They iignify not any individual thing, but at- 
tributes common to many individuals ; nor is it 
beyond the capacity of a child to underftand 
them perfe&ly, and to apply them properly to 
every individual in which they are found. 

As it is by analyling a complex object into its 
feveral attributes that we acquire our fimpleft 
abftrac~t conceptions, it may be proper to com- 
pare this analyfis with that which a Chemift 
makes of a compounded body into the ingredi- 
ents which enter into its compofition ; for al- 
though there be fuch an analogy between thefe 
two operations, that we give to both the name 
of analyfis or refolution, there is at the fame 
time fo great a diffimilitude in fome refpedts, 
that we may be led into error, by applying to 
one what belongs to the other. 

It is obvious, that the chemical analyfis is an 
operation of the hand upon matter, by various 
material inftruments. The analyfis we are now 
explaining is purely an operation of the under- 
ilanding, which requires no material inftrument, 
nor produces any change upon any external 

thing ; 


thing ; we fhall therefore call it the intellectual 
or mental analyfis. 

In the chemical analyfis, the compound body 
itfelf is the fubject analyfed. A fubject fo im- 
perfectly known, that it may be compounded of 
various ingredients, when to our fenfes it ap- 
pears perfectly limple ; and even when we are 
able to analyfe it into the different ingredients 
of which it is compofed, we know not how or 
why the combination of thofe ingredients pro- 
duces fuch a body. 

Thus pure fea-falt is a body, to appearance, 
as limple as any in nature. Every the lead par- 
ticle of it, difcernible by our fenfes, is perfectly 
fimilar to every other particle in all its qualities. 
The niceft tafte, the quicker! eye, can difcern no 
mark of its being made up of different ingre- 
dients ; yet, by the chemical art, it can be ana- 
lyfed into an acid and an alkali, and can be 
again produced by the combination of thofe 
two ingredients. But how this combination 
produces fea-falt, no man has been able to -dif- 
cover. The ingredients are both as unlike the 
compound as any bodies we know. No man 
could have gueffed, before the thing was known, 
that fea-falt is compounded of thofe two ingre- 
dients ; no man could have gueffed, that the 
union of thofe two ingredients fho'uld produce 
fuch a compound as fea-falt. Such in many cafes 


138 £SSAY v. [chap. 3. 

are the phenomena of the chemical analyfis of 
a compound body. 

If we confider the intellectual analyfis- of ail 
object, it is evident that nothing of this kind can 
happen ; becaufe the thing analyfed is not an 
external object imperfectly known ; it is a con- 
ception of the mind itfelf. And to fuppo.fe that 
there can be any thing in a conception that is 
not conceived, is a contradiction. 

The reafon of obferving this difference be- 
tween thofe two kinds of analyfis is, that fome 
Philofophers, in order to fupport their fyftems, 
have maintained, that a complex idea may have 
the appearance of the moft perfect fimpHcity, 
and retain no fimilitude of any of the fimple 
ideas of which it is compounded ; juft as a white 
colour may appear perfectly fimple, and retain 
no fimilitude to any of the feven primary co- 
lours of which it is compounded ; or as a che- 
mical compofition may appear perfectly fimple, 
and retain no fimilitude to any of the ingredi- 

From which thofe Philofophers have drawn 
this important conclufion, that a duller of the 
ideas of fenfe, properly combined, may make 
the idea of a mind ; and that all the ideas, which 
Mr Locke calls ideas of reflection, are only 
compofitions of the ideas which we have by our 
five fenfes. From this the tranfition is eafy, 
that if a proper compofition of the ideas of mat- 


ter may make the idea of a mind, then a propel 
compofition of matter itfelf may make a mind, 
and that man is only a piece of matter curioufly 

In this curious fyftem, the whole fabric refts 
upon this foundation, that a complex idea, which 
is made up of various fimple ideas, may appear 
to be perfectly fimple, and to have no marks of 
Compofition, becaufe a compound body may ap- 
pear to our fenfes to be perfectly fimple. 

Upon this fundamental proportion of this 
fyftem I beg leave to make two remarks. 

1. Supposing it to be true, it affirms only what 
may be. We are indeed in moft cafes very im- 
perfect judges of what may be. But this we 
know, that were we ever fo certain that a thing 
may be, this is no good reafon for believing that 
it really is. A may be is a mere hypothefis, 
which may furnirti matter of inveftigation, but 
is not entitled to the leaft degree of belief. The 
tranlition from what may be to what really is, 
is familiar and eafy to thofe who have a predi- 
lection for a hypothefis ; but to a man who feeks 
truth without prejudice or prepofTeflion, it is a 
very wide and difficult ftep, and he will never 
pafs from the one to the other, without evidence 
not only that the thing may be, but that it real- 
ly is. 

2. As far as I am able to judge, this, which 
it is faid may be, cannot be. That a complex 


140 ESSAY V. t[cHAP. 3. 

idea fhould be made up of fimple ideas, fo that 
to a ripe underftanding reflecting upon that idea, 
there mould be no appearance of compofition, 
nothing fimilar to the fimple ideas of which it 
is compounded, feems iometo involve a contra- 
diction. The idea is a conception of the mind. 
If anything more than this is meant by the 
idea, I know not what it is ; and I wifh both 
to know what it is, and to have proof of its ex- 
istence. Now that there mould be any thing in 
the conception of an object which is not con- 
ceived, appears to me as manifeft a contradi&ion, 
as that there mould be an exiftence which does 
not exiit, or that a thing mould be conceived, 
and not conceived at the fame time. 

But, fay thefe Philofophers, a white colour is 
produced by the compofition of the primary co- 
lours, and yet has no refemblance to any of 
them. I grant it. But what can be inferred 
from this with regard to the compofition of 
ideas ? To bring this argument home to the 
point, they muft fay, that becaufe a white co- 
lour is compounded of the primary colours, 
therefore the idea of a white colour is com- 
pounded of the ideas of the primary colours. 
This reafoning, if it was admitted, would lead 
to innumerable abfurdities. An opaque fluid 
may be compounded of two or more pellucid 
fluids. Hence we might infer with equal force, 
that the idea of an opaque fluid may be com- 


pounded of the idea of two or more pellucid 

Nature's way of compounding bodies, and 
our way of compounding ideas, are fo different 
in many refpects, that we cannot reafon from 
the one to the other, unlefs it can be found, that 
ideas are combined by fermentations and elec- 
tive attractions, and may be analyfed in a fur- 
,nace by the force of fire and of m ftruums. 
Until this difcovery be made, we mull hold 
thofe to be limple ideas, which, upon the molt 
attentive reflection, have no appearance of com- 
polition ; and thofe only to be the ingredients 
of complex ideas, which, by attentive reflection, 
can be perceived to be contained in them. 

If the idea of mind, and its operations, may 
be compounded of the ideas of matter and its 
qualities, why may not the idea of matter be 
compounded of the ideas of mind ? There is the 
fame evidence for the laft may be as for the firft. 
And why may not the idea of found be com- 
pounded of the ideas of colour ; or the idea of 
colour of thofe of found ? Why may not the 
idea of wifdom be compounded of ideas of folly ; 
or the idea of truth of ideas of abfurdity ? But 
we leave thefe m; fterious may bes to them that 
have faith to receive them. 


J4^ ESSAY V. [CHAP. 4, 


Of general Conceptions formed by Combination, 

AS, by an intellectual analyfis of objects, we 
form general conceptions of lingle attri- 
butes, (which, of all conceptions that enter into 
the human mind, are the molt Ample), fo, by 
combining feveral of thefe into one parcel, and 
giving a name to that combination, we form ge- 
neral conceptions that may be very complex, 
and at the fame time very diftinct. 

Thus one, who, by analyfing extended ob- 
jects, has got the fimple notions of a point, 
a line, ftraight or curve, an angle, a furface, a 
folid, can ealily conceive a plain furface, termi- 
nated by four equal ftraight lines meeting in 
four points at right angles. To this fpecies of 
figure he gives the name of a fquare. In like 
manner, he can conceive a folid terminated by 
fix equal fquares, and give it the name of a cube. 
A fquare, a cube, and every name of mathema- 
tical figure, is a general term, exprelfing a com- 
plex general conception, made by a certain com- 
bination of the limple elements into which we 
analyfe extended bodies. 

Every mathematical figure is accurately de- 
nned, by enumerating the limple elements of 



which it is formed, and the manner of their com- 
bination. The definition contains the whole ef- 
fence of it : And every property that belongs to 
it may be deduced by demonftrative reafoning 
from its definition. It is not a thing that ex- 
jfts, for then it would be an individual ; but it 
is a thing that is conceived without regard to 

A farm, a manor, a parifli, a county, a king- 
dom, are complex general conceptions, formed 
by various combinations and modifications of in- 
habited territory^ under certain forms of go- 

Different combinations of military men form 
the notions of a company, a regiment, an army. 

The feveral crimes which are the objects of 
criminal law, fuch as theft, murder, robbery, 
piracy, what are they but certain combinations 
of human actions and intentions, which are ac- 
curately defined in criminal law, and which it 
is found convenient to comprehend under one 
name, and coniider as one thing ? 

When we obierve, that Nature, in her animal, 
vegetable, and inanimate productions, has form- 
ed many individuals that agree in many of their 
qualities and attributes, we are led by natural 
jnftinct. to expect their agreement in other qua- 
lities, which we have not had occafion to per- 
ceive. Thus, a child who has once burnt his 
finger, by putting it in the flame of one candle, 


144 ESSAY v. [chap. 4. 

expects the fame event if he puts it in the flame 
of another candle, or in any flame, and is there- 
by led to think that the quality of burning be- 
longs to all flame. This inftinctive induction is 
not juftified by the rules of logic, and it fome- 
times leads men into harmlefs miftakes, which 
experience may afterwards correct ; but it pre- 
ferves us from deftruction in innumerable dan- 
gers to which we are expofed. • 

The reafon of taking notice of this principle 
in human nature in this place is, that the diftri- 
bution of the productions of Nature into genera 
nn&fpecies becomes, on account of this principle, 
more generally ufeful. 

The Phyfician expects, that the rhubarb which 
has never yet been tried will have like medical 
virtues with that which he has prefcribed on 
former occafions. Two parcels of rhubarb agree 
in certain fenfible qualities, from which agree- 
ment they are both called by the fame general 
name rhubarb. Therefore it is expected that 
they will agree in their medical virtues. And 
as experience has difcovered certain virtues in 
one parcel, or in many parcels, we prefume, 
without experience, that the fame virtues belong 
to all parcels of rhubarb that fhall be ufed. 

If a traveller meets a horfe, an ox, or a fheep, 
which he never faw before, he is under no ap- 
prehenlion, believing thefe animals to be of a 
fpecies that is tame and inofTenlive. But he 



dreads a lion or a tyger, becaufe they are of a 
fierce and ravenous fpecies. 

We are capable of receiving innumerable ad- 
vantages, and are expofed to innumerable dan- 
gers, from the various productions of Nature, 
animal, vegetable, and inanimate. The life of 
man, if an hundred times longer than it is, would 
be infufficient to learn from experience the ufe- 
fulr and hurtful qualities of every individual pro- 
duction of Nature taken fingly. 

The Author of Nature hath made provifion 
for our attaining that knowledge of his works 
which is necelfary for our fubfiftence and pre- 
fervation, partly by the conllitution of the pro- 
ductions of Nature, and partly by the confti- 
tution of the human mind. 

For, JirJI, In the productions of Nature, great 
numbers of individuals are made fo like to one 
another, both in their obvious and in their more 
occult qualities, that we are not only enabled, 
but invited, as it were, to reduce them into 
daffes, and to give a general name to a clafs ; 
a name which is common to every individual of 
the clafs, becaufe it comprehends in its fignifi- 
cation thofe qualities or attributes only that are 
common to all the individuals of that clafs. 

Secondly, The human mind is fo framed, that, 
from the agreement of individuals in the more 
obvious qualities by which we reduce them in- 
to one clafs, we are naturally led to expect that 

Vol. II. K they 

I4 6 ESSAY v. [chap. 4 

thev will be found to agree in their more latent 

qualities, and in this we are feldom difappointed. 
We have; therefore, a ftroiig and rational in- 
ducement, both to diftribute natural fubftances 
into clades, genera and /pedes, under general 
names ; and to do this with all the accuracy and 
diftmctnefs we are able. For the more accurate 
our diviiions are made, and the more diftindtly 
the feveral ipecies are defined, the more fecurely 
we may rely, that the qualities we find in one 
or in a "few individuals will be found in all of 

the fame ipecies. 

Every ipecies of natural fubftances which has 
a name "in language, is an attribute of many indi- 
viduals, and is itielf a combination of more fimple 
attributes, which we obferve to be common to 
thofe individuals. 

We mall find a great part of the words ot 
everv language, nay, I apprehend, the far great- 
er part, to lignify combinations of more fimple 
general conceptions, which men have found pro- 
per to be bound up, as it were, in one parcel, by 
being defigned by one name. 

Some general conceptions there are, which 
may more properly be called compactions or 
works than mere combinations. Thus, one may 
conceive a machine which newr exifted. He 
may conceive an air in mufic, a poem, a plan of 
architecture, a plan of government, a plan of 
conduct in pubnc or in private life, a fentencc, 


a difcourfe, a treatife. Such compoiitions are 
things conceived in the mind of the author, not 
individuals that really exilt ; and the fane ge- 
neral conception which the author had may be 
communicated to others by language. 

Thus, the Oceana of Harrington was con- 
ceived in the mind of its author. The mate- 
rials of which it is compofed are things con- 
ceived, not things that existed. His fenate, his 
popular alTembly, his magistrates, his elections, 
are all conceptions of his mind, and the whole is 
one complex conception. And the fame may 
be faid of every work of the human understand- 

Very different from thefe are the works of 
God, which we behold. They are works of 
creative power, not of understanding only. 
They have a real existence. Our belt concep- 
tions of them are partial and imperfect. But of 
the works of the human understanding our con- 
ception may be perfect and complete. They 
are nothing but what the author conceived, and 
what he can exprels by language, fo as to con- 
vey his conception perfectly to men like himfelf. 

Although fuch works are indeed complex ge- 
neral conceptions, they do not fo properly be- 
long to our prefent fubject. They are more the 
objects of judgment and of tafte, than of bare 
conception or simple apprehension. 

K2 To 

148 ESSAY V. [CHAP. 4. 

To return therefore to thofe complex concep- 
tions which are formed merely by combining 
thofe that are more fimple. Nature has given 
us the power of combining fuch fimple attri- 
butes, and fuch a number of them as we find 
proper ; and of giving one name to that com- 
bination, and confidering it as one object of 

The fimple attributes of things, which fall 
under our obfervation, are not fo numerous but 
that they may all have names in a copious lan- 
guage. But to give narn^s to all the combina- 
tions that can be made of two, three, or more of 
them, would be impoffible. The moft copious 
languages have names but for a very fmall part. 

It may likewife be obferved, that the com- 
binations that have names are nearly, though 
not perfectly, the fame in the different languages 
of civilized nations, that have intercourfe with 
one another. Hence it is, that the Lexico- 
grapher, for the moft part, can give words in 
one language anfwering perfectly, or very nearly, 
to thofe of another ; and what is wrote in a 
fimple ftyle in one language, can be tranflated 
almoft word for word into another. 

From thefe obfervations we may conclude, 
that there are either certain common principles 
of human nature, or certain common occurrences 
of human life, which difpofe men, out of an in- 


finite number that might be formed, to form cer- 
tain combinations rather than others. 

Mr Hume, in order to account for this pha> 
nomenon, has recourfe to what he calls the af- 
fociating qualities of ideas ; to wit, caufation, 
contiguity in time, and place, and fimilitude. 
He conceives, " that one of the moil remarkable 
" effects of thofe aifociating qualities, is the com- 
" plex ideas which are the common fubjects of 
" our thoughts. That this alio is the caufe why 
" languages fo nearly correfpond to one another. 
" Nature in a manner pointing out to every one 
" thofe ideas which are moft proper to be united 
" into a complex one." 

I agree with this ingenious author, that Na- 
ture in a manner points out thofe Ample ideas 
which are moft proper to be united into a com- 
plex one : But Nature does this, not folely or 
chiefly by the relations between the fimple ideas, 
of contiguity, caufation, and refemblance ; but 
rather by the fitnefs of the combinations we 
make, to aid our own conceptions, and to convey 
them to others by language eafily and agreeably. 

The end and ufe of language, without regard 
to the aifociating qualities of ideas, will lead 
men that have common underftanding to form 
fuch complex notions as are proper for expref- 
fing their wants, their thoughts, and their de- 
lires : And in every language we (hall find thefe 
to be the complex notions that have names. 

K 3 In 

t$0 £ S S A Y V. fcHAP. ^ 

In the rudeft ftate of fociety, men mull have 
occafion to form the general notions of man, 
woman, father, mother, fon, daughter, filter, 
brother, neighbour, friend, enemy, and many 
others, to exprefs the common relations of one 
perfon to another. 

If they are employed in hunting, they mull 
have general terms to exprefs the various im- 
plements and operations of the chace. Their 
houfes and clothing* however fimple, will fur- 
nifh another fet of general terms, to exprefs the 
materials, the workrrianmip* and the excellen- 
cies and defects of thole fabrics. If they fail 
upon rivers, or upon the fea, this will give oc- 
c a lion to a great number of general terms, which 
otherwise would never have occurred to their 

The fame thing may be faid of agriculture, 
of pafturage, of every art they practife, and of 
every branch of knowledge they attain. The 
neceility of general terms for communicating 
our fentiments is obvious ; and the invention of 
them, as far as we find them necelfary, requires 
no other talent but that degree of understand- 
ing which is common to men. 

The notions of debtor and creditor, of profit 
and lofs, of account, balance, ftock on hand, and 
many others, are owing to commerce. The no- 
tions of latitude, longitude, courfe, diftance run ; 
and thofe of fhips, and of their various parts, 


Conceptions formed by combinatioi-t. 15! 

furniture and operations, are owing to naviga- 
tion. The Anatomift muft have names, for the 
various fimilar and diffimilar parts of the human 
body, and words, to exprefs their figure, pofi- 
tion, ftrudture, and ufe. The Phyiician mull 
have names for the various difeafes of the body^ 
their caufes, fymptoms, and means of cure. 

The like may be faid of the Grammarian, the 
Logician, the Critic, the Rhetorician, the Mora- 
lift, the Naturalift, the Mechanic, and every 
man that profeffes any art o? fcience. 

When any difcovery is made in art or in nature, 
which requires new combinations and new words 
to exprefs it properly, the invention of thefe is 
eafy to thofe who have a diftincl: notion of the 
thing to be exprefled ; and fuch words will rea- 
dily be adopted, and receive the public fancfion. 

If, on the other hand, any man of eminence, 
through vanity or want of judgment, mould in- 
vent new words, to exprefs combinations that 
have neither beauty nor utility, or which may 
as well be exprefled in the current language, his 
authority may give them currency for a time 
with fervile imitators, or blind admirers : But 
the judicious will laugh at them, and they will 
foon lofe their credit. So true was the obferva- 
tion made by Pompon i us Marcellus, an an- 
cient Grammarian, to Tiberius Caesar. " You, 
" CjEsar, have power to make a man a denizen 

K 4 " of- 

152 ESSAY V. [CHAP. 4. 

" of Rome, but not to make a word a denizen of 
" the Roman language." 

Among nations that are civilized, and have 
intercourfe with one another, the moft neceffary 
and ufeful arts will be common ; the important 
parts of human knowledge will be common ; 
their feveral languages will be fitted to it, and 
confeq'uently to one another. 

New inventions of general ufe give an eafy 
birth to new complex notions and new names, 
which fpread as far as the invention does. How 
many new complex notions have been formed, 
and names for them invented in the languages 
of Europe, by the modern inventions of printing, 
of gunpowder, of the mariner's compafs, of op- 
tical glaffes ? The fimple ideas combined in 
thofe complex notions, and the affociating quali- 
ties of thofe ideas, are very ancient ; but they 
never produced thofe complex notions until 
there was ufe for them. 

What is peculiar to a nation in its cuftoms, ' 
manners, or laws, will give occafion to complex 
notions and words peculiar to the language of 
that nation. Hence it is eafy to fee, why an im- 
peachment, and an attainder, in the Englilli lan- 
guage, and ojlracifm in the Greek language, have 
not names anfwering to them in other languages. 

I apprehend, therefore, that it is utility, and 
not the affociating qualities of the ideas, that lias 
led men to form only certain combinations, and 



to give names to them in language, while they 
neglect an infinite number that might be form- 

The common occurrences of life, in the inter- 
courfe of men, and in their occupations, give 
occalion to many complex notions. We fee an 
individual occurrence, which draws our atten- 
tion more or lefs, and may be a fubject of con- 
versation. Other occurrences, fimilar to this in 
many refpects, have been obferved, or may be 
expected. It is convenient that we mould be 
able to fpeak of what is common to them all; 
leaving out the unimportant circumftances of 
time, place, and perfons. This we can do with 
great eafe, by giving a name to what is common 
to all thofe individual occurrences. Such a name 
is a great aid to language, becaufe it compre- 
hends, in one word, a great number of limple 
notions, which it would' be very tedious to ex- 
prefs in detail. 

Thus men have formed the complex notions 
of eating, drinking, fleeping, walking, riding, 
running, buying, felling, plowing, lowing, a 
dance, a feait, war, a battle, victory, triumph \ 
and others without number. 

Such things mult frequently be the fubject of 
converfation ; and if we had not a more com- 
pendious way of expreffing them than by a de- 
tail of all the limple notions they comprehend, 
we fliould lofe the benefit of fpeech. 


S54 essay v. [chap, 4, 

The different talents, difpofitions, and habits 
of men in fociety, being interefting to thofe who 
have to do with them, will in every language 
have general names ; filch as wife, foolifh, 
knowing, ignorant, plain, cunning. In every 
operative art, the tools, inftruments, materials, 
the work produced, and the various excellen- 
cies and defects of thefe, muft have general 

The various relations of perfons, and of things 
which cannot efcape the obfervation of men in 
fociety, lead us to many complex general no- 
tions; fuch as father, brother, friend, enemy, 
mailer, fervant, property, theft, rebellion. 

The terms of art in the fciences make another 
clafs of general names of complex notions ; as in 
mathematics, axiom, definition, problem, theo- 
rem, demonftration. 

I do not attempt a complete enumeration even 
of the claffes of complex general conceptions. 
Thofe 1 have named as a fpecimen, I think, are 
moltly comprehended under what Mr Locke 
calls mixed modes and relations ; which, he 
juftly obferves, have names given them in lan- 
guage, in preference to innumerable others that 
might be formed ; for this reafon only, that 
they are ufeful for the purpofe of communica-, 
ting our thoughts by language. 

In all the languages of mankind, not only the 
writings and difcourfes of the learned, but the 



ccnverfation pf the vulgar, is almoft entirely 
made tip of general words, which are the figns 
of general conceptions, either fimple or com- 
plex. And in every language, we find the terms 
fignifying complex notions to be fuch, and only 
fuch, as the ufe of language requires. 

There remains a very large clafs of complex, 
general terms, on which I fhall make fome ob- 
fervations ; I m an thofe by which we name 
the fpecies, genera, and tribes of natural fub- 

It is utility, indeed, that leads us to give gene- 
ral names to the various fpecies of natural fub~ 
fiances; but, in the attributes which 
are included under the fpecific name, we are 
more aided and directed by Nature, than in 
forming other combinations of mixed modes and 
relations. In the laft, the ingredients are brought 
together in the occurrences of life, or in the ac- 
tions or thoughts of men. But, in the firn% 
the ingredients are united by nature in many 
individual fubftances which God has made. We 
form a general notion of thofe attributes, where- 
in many individuals agree. We give a fpecific 
name to this combination ; which name is com- 
mon to all fubftances having thofe attributes, 
which either do or may exift. The fpecific 
name comprehends neither more nor fewer at- 
tributes than we find proper to put into its de- 
finition. It comprehends not time, nor place, 
« nor 

156 ESSAY V. [CHAP. 4. 

nor even exiitence, although there can be no in- 
dividual without thefe. 

This work erf the underftanding is abfolutely 
neceffary for fpeaking intelligibly of the produc- 
tions of Nature, and for reaping -the benefits we 
receive, and avoiding the dangers we are expo- 
fed to from them. The individuals are fo ma- 
ny, that to give a proper name to each would 
be beyond the power of language. If a good or 
bad quality was obferved in an individual, of 
how fmall Life would this be, if there was not a 
fpecies in which the fame quality might be ex- 
pected ? 

Without fome general knowledge of the qua- 
lities of natural fubflances, human life could not 
be preferved. And there can be no general 
knowledge of this kind, without reducing them 
to fpecies under fpecific names. For this rea- 
fon, among the rudeft nations, we find names 
for tire, water, earth, air, mountains, fountains, 
rivers ; for the kinds of vegetables they ufe ; 
of animals they hunt or tame, or that are found 
ufeful or hurtful. 

Each of thofe names fignifies in general a fub- 
ilance having a certain combination of attributes. 
The name therefore mull be common to all fub- 
flances in which thofe attributes are found. 

Such general names of fubflances being found 
in all vulgar languages, before Philofophers began 
to make accurate divilions, and lefs obvious di- 



ftinctions, it is not to be expected that their 
meaning mould be more precife than is neceffa- 
ry for the common purpofes of life. 

As the knowledge of Nature advances, more 
fpecies of natural fubftances are obferved, and 
their ufeful qualities difcovered. In order that 
this important part of human knowledge may 
be communicated, and handed down to future 
generations, it is not fufficient that the fpecies 
have names. Such is the fluctuating ftate of 
language, that a general name will not always 
retain the fame precife lignification, unlefs it 
have a definition in which men are difpofed to 

There was undoubtedly a great fund of natu- 
ral knowledge among the Greeks and Romans 
in the time of Pliny. There is a great fund in 
his Natural Hiftory ; but much of it is loft to 
us, for this reafon among others, that we know 
hot what fpecies of fubftance he means by fuch 
a name. 

Nothing could have prevented this lofs but an 
accurate definition of the name, by which the 
fpecies might have been diftinguifhed from all 
others, as long as that name and its definition 

To prevent fuch lofs in future times, modern 
Philofophers have very laudably attempted to 
give names and accurate definitions of all the 


I $3 ESSAY V. [CHAP. 4. 

known fpecies of fubftances, wherewith the 
bountiful Creator hath enriched our globe. 

This is necelTary, in order to form a copious 
and diftincl: language concerning them, and con- 
fequently to facilitate our knowledge of them, 
and to convey it to future generations. 

Every fpecies that is known to exift ought to 
have a name ; and that name ought to be defi- 
ned by fuch attributes as ferve bed to diftin- 
guifli the fpecies from all others. 

Nature invites to this work, by having form- 
ed things fo as to make it both eafy and impor- 

For, fir ft, We perceive numbers of individual 
fubftances fo like in their obvious qualities, that 
the mod unimproved tribes of men coniider 
them as of one fpecies, and give them one com- 
mon name. 

Secondly, The more latent qualities of fubftances 
are generaly the fame in all the individuals of 
a fpecies : So that what, by observation or expe- 
riment, is found in a few individuals of a fpecies, 
is prefumed, and commonly found to belong to 
the whole. By this we are enabled, from par- 
ticular facts, to draw general conclusions. This 
kind of induction is indeed the mafter-key to 
the knowledge of Nature, without which we 
could form no general ccncluiions in that branch 
pf pkilofophy. 

A n 4 


And, thirdly, By the very conftitution of our 
nature, we are led, without reasoning, to a- 
fcribe to the whole fpecies what we have found 
to belong to the individuals. It is thus we come 
to know that fire burns, and water drowns ; that 
bodies gravitate, and bread nouhfhes. 

The fpecies of two of the kingdoms of Nature, 
to wit, the animal and the vegetable, feem to be 
fixed by Nature, by the power they have of 
producing their like. And in thefe, men in all 
ages and nations have accounted the parent and 
the progeny of the fame fpecies. The differ- 
ences among Naturalirts, with regard to the fpe- 
cies of thefe two kingdoms, are very inconlider- 
able, and may be occafioned by the changes pro- 
duced by foil, climate, and culture, and fome- 
times by monflrous productions, which are com- 
paratively rare. 

In the inanimate kingdom we have not the 
fame means of dividing things into fpecies, and 
therefore the limits of fpecies feem to be more 
arbitrary : But from the progrefs already made, 
there is ground to hope, that even in this king- 
dom, as the knowledge of it advances, the vari- 
ous fpecies may be fo well diftinguifhed and de- 
fined as to anfwer every valuable purpofe. 

When the fpecies are fo numerous as to bur- 
den the memory, it is greatly affifted by diftri- 
buting them into genera ; the genera into tribes, 
the tribes into orders, and the orders into claries. 


l6o ESSAY V. [CHAP. 4. 

Such a regular diftribution of natural Jubilan- 
ces, by divifions and fubdivifions, has got the 
name of a fyftem. 

It is not a fyftem of truths, but a fyftem of 
general terms, with their definitions ; and it is 
not only a great help to memory, but facilitates 
very much the definition of the terms. For the 
definition of the genus is common to all the fpe- 
cies of that genus, and fo is underftood in the 
definition of each fpecies, without the trouble 
of repetition. In like manner, the definition 
of a tribe is underftood in the definition of eve- 
ry genus, and every fpecies of that tribe ; and the 
fame may be faid of every fuperior divifion. 

The effect of fuch a fyftematical diftribution 
of the productions of Nature, is feen in our 
fyftems of zoology, botany, and mineralogy ; 
in which a fpecies is commonly defined accu- 
rately in a line or two, which, without the fyf- 
tematical arrangement, could hardly be defined 
in a page. 

With regard to the utility of fyftems of this 
kind, men have gone into contrary extremes ; 
fome have treated them with contempt, as a 
mere dictionary of words ; others, perhaps, reft 
in fuch fyftems, as all that is worth knowing in 
the works of Nature. 

On the one hand, it is not the intention of 
fuch fyftems to communicate all that is known 
of the natural productions which they defcribe. 


Conceptions formed by combination. 161 

The properties moft fit for defining and difiin- 
guifhing the feveral fpecies, are not always thofe- 
that are moft ufeful to be known. To diicover 
and to communicate the ufes of natural fubfiv.n- 
ces in life, and in the arts, is no doubt that part 
of the bufinefs of a Naturalift which is the moft 
important \ and the fyftematical arrangement 
of them is chiefly to be valued for its fubfer- 
viency to this end. This every judicious Na- 
turalifl: will grant. 

But, on the other hand, the labour is not to 
be defpifed, by which the road to an ufeful and 
important branch of knowledge is made eafy 
in all time to come ; efpecially when this la- 
bour requires both extenfive knowledge and great 

The talent of arranging properly, and defining 
accurately, is fo rare, and at the fame time fo 
ufeful, that it may very juftly be confidered as a 
proof of real genius, and as entitled to a high de- 
gree of praife. There is an intrinlic beauty in 
arrangement, which captivates the mind, and 
gives pleafure, even abftracting from its utility ; 
as in moft other things, fo in this particularly,, 
Nature has joined beauty with utility. The ar- 
rangement of an army in the day of battle is a 
grand fpectacle. The fame men crowded in a 
fair, have no fuch effect.. It is not more ftrange 
therefore that fome men fpend their days in ftu- 
dying fyftems of Nature, than that other men 

Vol. II. L employ 

l62 ESSAY V. [CHAP. 4. 

employ their lives in the ftudy of languages. 
The moft important end of thofe fyftems, furely 
is to form a copious and an unambiguous lan- 
guage concerning the productions of Nature, by 
which every ufeful difcovery concerning them 
may be communicated to the prefent, and tranf- 
mitted to all future generations, without danger 
of miftake. 

General terras, efpecially fuch as are complex 
in their figniri cation, will never keep one precife, 
meaning without accurate definition ; and accu- 
rate definitions of fuch terms can in no way be 
formed fo eafily and advantageoufiy, as by redu- 
cing the things they lignify into a regular fyftem. 

Very eminent men in the medical profeffion, 
in order to remove all ambiguity in the names 
of difeafes, and to advance the healing art, have 
of late attempted to reduce into a fyftematical 
order the difeafes of the human body, and to 
give diftindt. names, and accurate definitions, of 
the feveral fpecies, genera, orders, and dalles, in- 
to which they diftribute them ; and I apprehend, 
that in every art and fcience, where the terms of 
the art have any ambiguity that obftructs its pro- 
grefs, this method will be found the eafieft and, 
moft fuccefsful for the remedy of that evil. 

It were even to be wifhed, that the general 
terms which we find in common language, as 
well as thofe of the arts and fciences, could be 
/ reduced to a fyftematical arrangement, and de- 


fined fo as that they might be free from ambi- 
guity ; but perhaps the oblxacles to this are infur- 
mountable. I know no man who has attempted 
it but Bifhop Wilkins in his Effay towards a 
real character and a philofophical language. The 
attempt was grand, and worthy of a man of ge- 

The formation of fuch fyftems, therefore, of 
the various productions of Nature, inilead of 
being defpifed, ought to be ranked among the va- 
luable improvements of modern ages, and to be 
the more efteemed that its utility reaches to the 
moil diftant future times, and, like the -invention 
of writing, ferves to embalm a molt important 
branch of human knowledge, and to preferve it 
from being corrupted or loft. 


Obfervations concerning the Names given to our 
general Notions. 

I AVING now explained, as well as I am able, 
I thofe operations of the mind by which we 
analyfe the objects which Nature prefents to our 
obfervation, into their limple attributes, giving a 
general name to each, and by which we com- 
bine any number of fuch attributes into one 
whole, and give a general name to that com- 
L 2 bination, 

164 ESSAY V. [CHA*. 5, 

bination, I fhall offer fome obfervations relating 
to our general notions, whether fimple or cora^ 

I apprehend that the names given to them by- 
modern Philofophers have contributed to darken 
our Speculations about them, and to render them 
difficult and abflrufe. 

We call them general notions, conceptions, 
ideas. The words notion and conception, in 
their proper and moil common fenfe, iignify the 
act or operation of the mind in conceiving an ob- 
ject. In a figurative fenfe, they are fometimes 
put for the object conceived. And I think they 
are rarely, if ever, ufed in this figurative fenfe, ex- 
cept when we fpeak of what we call general no- 
tions or general conceptions. The word idea, as 
it is ufed in modern times, has the fame ambi- 

Now, it is only in the laft of thefe fenfes, and 
not in the firft, that we can be faid to have ge- 
neral notions or conceptions. The generality is 
in the object conceived, and not in the a£t of the 
mind by which it is conceived. Every acl: of the 
mind is an individual ad, which does or did exift. 
But we have power to conceive things which 
neither do nor ever did exift. We have power 
to conceive attributes without regard to their 
exiftence. The conception of fuch an attribute 
is a real and individual acl: of the mind ; but the 
attribute conceived is common to many indivi- 


duals that do or may exift. We are too apt to 
confound an object of conception with the con- 
ception of that object. But the danger of doing 
this muft be much greater when the object, of 
conception is called a conception. 

The Peripatetics gave to fuch objects of con- 
ception the names of univerfals, and of predi- 
cates. Thofe names had no ambiguity, and I 
think were much more fit to exprefs what^was 
meant by them than the names we ufe. 

It is for this reafon that I have fo often ufed 
the word attribute, which has the fame meaning 
with predicable. And for the fame reafon, I 
have thought it neceffary repeatedly to warn the 
reader, that when, in compliance with cultom, I 
fpeak of general notions or general conceptions, 
I always mean things conceived, and not the act 
of the mind in conceiving them. 

The Pythagoreans and Platonifts gave the 
name of ideas to fuch general objects of concep- 
tion, and to nothing elfe. As we borrowed the 
word idea from them, fo that it is now familiar 
in ail the languages of Europe, I think it would 
have been happy if we had alfo borrowed their 
meaning, and had ufed it only to lignify wmat 
they meant by it. I apprehend we want an un- 
ambiguous word to diftinguifh things barely 
conceived from things that exift. If the word 
idea was ufed for this purpofe only, it would be 
L 3 reftored 

166 essay v. [chap, 5. 

reftored to its original meaning, and fupply that 

We may furely agree with the Platonifts in the 
meaning of the word idea, without adopting 
their theory concerning ideas. We need not 
believe, with them, that ideas are eternal and 
felf-exiftent, and that they have a more real ex- 
iftence than the things we fee and feel. 

They were led to give exiftence to ideas, from 
the common prejudice, that every thing which 
is an object of conception muft really exift ; and 
having once given exiftence to ideas, the reft of 
their myfterious fyltem about ideas followed of 
courfe ; for things merely conceived, have nei- 
ther beginning nor end, time nor place ; they 
are fubjecl; to no change ; they are the patterns 
and exemplars according to which the Deity' 
made every thing that he made ; for the work 
mull be conceived by the artificer before it is 

Thefe are undeniable attributes of the ideas 
of Plato, and if we add to them that of real 
exiftence, we have the whole myfterious fyftem 
of Platonic ideas. Take away the attribute of 
exiftence, and fuppofe them not to be things 
that exift, but things that are barely conceived, 
and all the myftery is removed ; all that re- 
mains is level to the human underftanding. 

The word e (fence came to be much ufed Ur 
rnong the fchoolmen, and what the Platonifts 



called the idea of a fpecies, they called its effence. 
The word effentia is faid to have been made by 
Cicero ; but even his authority could not give it 
currency, until long after his time. It came at lad 
to be ufed, and the fchoolmen fell into much the 
fame opinions concerning effences, as the Pla- 
tonifts held concerning ideas. The effences of 
things were held to be uncreated, eternal, and 

Mr Locke diftinguifhes two kinds of effence, 
the real and the nominal. By the real effence 
he means the conilitution of an individual, which 
makes it to be what it is. This effence muft be- 
gin and end with the individual to which it be- 
longs. It is not therefore a Platonic idea. But 
what Mr Locke calls the nominal effence, is the 
conftitution of a fpecies, or that which makes 
an individual to be of fuch a fpecies ; and 
this is nothing but that combination of attri- 
butes which is iignified by the name of the fpe- 
cies, and which we conceive without regard to 

The effence of a fpecies therefore, is what the 
Platonifts called the idea of the fpecies. 

If the word idea be reftricted to the meaning 
which' it bore among the Platonifts and Pytha- 
goreans, many things which Mr Locke has faid 
with regard to ideas will be juft and true, and 
others will not, 

L» 4 It 

i68 £ s s a y v. [chap. 5. 

It will be true, that molt words (indeed all 
general words) are the figns of ideas ; but pro- 
ber names are not ; they fignify individual things, 
and not ideas. It will be true not only that 
there are general and abftracl: ideas, but that 
all ideas are general and abftracl; . It will be fo 
far from the truth, that all our limple ideas are 
got immediately, either from fenfation, or from 
confeioumefs ; that no fimple idea is got by ei- 
ther, without the co-operation of other powers. 
The objects of fenfe, of memory, and of confei- 
oumefs, are not ideas but individuals; they mu ft 
be analyfed by the underftanding into their fim- 
ple ingredients, before we can have fimple ideas ; 
and thofe fimple ideas mult be again combined 
by the underftanding, in diftindl parcels with 
names annexed, in order to give us complex 
ideas : It will be probable not only that brutes 
have no abftracl ideas, but that they have no 
ideas at all. 

I mall only add, that the learned author of 
the Origin and Progrefs of Language, and per- 
haps his learned friend Mr Harris, are the 
only modern authors I have met with, who 
reftricl: the word idea to this meaning. Their 
acquaintance with ancient philofophy led them 
to this. What pity is it that a word, which 
in ancient philofophy had a diftinct meaning, 
and which, if kept to that meaning, would 
have been a real acquifition to our language, 



mould be ufed by the moderns in fo vague and 
ambiguous a manner, that it is more apt to per- 
plex and darken our fpeculations, than to convey 
ufeful knowledge. 

From all that has been faid about abrtract and 
general conceptions, I think we may draw the 
following conclufions concerning them. 

Firjl, That it is by abftraclion that the mind 
is furnilhed with all its moil fimple, and moll 
diftinct. notions : The fimpleft objects of fenfe 
appear both complex and indiftinct, until by ab- 
ftraction they are analyfed into their more fimple 
elements ; and the fame may be faid of the ob- 
jects of memory and of confcioufnefs. 

Secondly, Our moft diftinct complex notions 
are thofe that are formed by compounding the 
fimple notions got by abftraclion. 

Thirdly, Without the powers of abftracting 
and generalifing, it would be impoffible to re- 
duce things into any order and method, by di- 
viding them into genera and fpecies. 

Fourthly, Without thofe powers there could 
be no definition ; for definition can only be ap- 
plied to univerfals, and no individual can be de- 

Fifthly, Without abftract and general notions 
there can neither be reafoning nor language. 

Sixthly, As brute animals fhew no figns of be- 
ing able to diftinguifh the various attributes of 
the fame fubjecl: ■; of being able to clafs things 


17© ESSAY V. [CHAP. 6. 

into genera and fpecies ; to define, to reafon, or 
to communicate their thoughts by artificial figns* 
as men do ; I mull think with Mr Locke, that 
they have not the powers of abftracting and ge- 
neralifing; and that in this particular, Nature 
has made a fpecific difference between them and 
the human fpecies. 


Opinions of Philofophers about Univerfals. 

IN the ancient philofophy, the doctrine of uni- 
verials, that is, of things which we exprefs 
by general terms, makes a great figure. The 
ideas of the Pythagoreans and Platonifts, of 
which fo much has been already faid, were uni- 
verfals. All icience is employed about uni- 
verfals as it object. It was thought that there 
can be no fcience, unlefs its object be fomething 
real and immutable ; and therefore thofe who 
paid homage to truth and fcience, maintained 
that ideas or univerfals have a real and immut- 
able exiilence. 

The Sceptics, on the contrary, (for there were 
fceptical Philofophers in thofe early days) main- 
tained, that all things are mutable, and in a per- 
petual fluctuation ; and from this principle in- 
% ferred. 


Ferred, that there is no fcience, no truth ; that 
all is uncertain opinion. 

Plato, and his mailers of the Pythagorean 
fchool, yielded this with regard to objects of 
fenfe, and acknowledged that there could be no 
fcience or certain knowledge concerning them : 
But they held, that there are objects of intellect 
of a fuperior order and nature, which are per- 
manent and immutable. Thefe are ideas, or 
univerfal natures, of which the objects of fenfe 
are only the images and fhadows. 

To thefe ideas they afcribed, as I have already 
obferved,, the moft magnificent attributes. Of 
man, of a rofe, of a circle, and of every fpecies 
of things, they believed that there is one idea or 
form, which exifted from eternity, before any 
individual of the fpecies was formed: That this 
idea is the exemplar or pattern, according to 
which the Deity formed the individuals of the 
fpecies : That every individual of the fpecies 
participates of this idea, which constitutes its 
efience ; and that this idea is likewife an object 
of the human intellect, when, by due abstraction, 
we difcern it to be one in all the individuals of 
the fpecies. 

Thus the idea of every fpecies, though one 
and immutable, might be confidered in three 
different views or refpects ; firji, as having an 
eternal existence before there was any indivi- 
dual of the fpecies \ fecondly, as exifting in every 


17^ ESSAY V. [CHAP. 5. 

individual of that fpecies, without diviiion or 
multiplication, and making the erTence of the 
fpecies; and, thirdly, as an objecl of intellect 
and of fcience in man. 

Such I take to be the doctrine of Plato, as 
far as I am able to comprehend it. His dif- 
ciple Aristotle rejected the firft of thefe views 
of ideas as vitionary, -but differed little from his 
mailer with regard to the two laft. He did not 
admit the exiftence of univerfal natures antece- 
dent to the exiftence of individuals ; but he held, 
that every individal coniiils of matter and form : 
That the form (which I take to be what Plato 
ca:ls the idea) is common to all the individuals 
of the fpecies, and that the human intellect is 
fitted to receive the forms of things as objects of 
contemplation. " Such profound fpeculations 
about the nature of univerfais, we find even in 
the firft ages of philofophy. I wiih I couid 
make them more intelligible to myfelf and to 
the reader. 

The diviiion qi univerfais into five claries ; to 
wit, genus, fpecies, fpecific difference, properties, 
and accidents, is likewife very ancient, and I 
conceive was borrowed by the Peripatetics from 
the Pythagorean fchcoi. 

Porphyry has given us a very diilinct treatile 
upon thefe, as an introduction to Aristotle's 
categories. But he has omitted the intricate 
metaphyseal queiticns that were agitated about 



their nature ; fuch as, Whether genera and fpe- 
cies do really exift in nature ? Or, Whether they 
are only conceptions of the human mind ? If 
they exift in nature, Whether they are corporeal 
or incorporeal ? And whether they are inherent- 
in the objects of fenfe, or disjoined from them ? 
Thefe queftions he tells us, for brevity's fake, 
he omits, becaufe they are very profound, and 
require accurate difcumon. It is probable, that 
thefe queftions exercifed the wits of the Philo- 
fophers till about the twelfth century. 

About that time, Roscelinus or Ruscelinus, 
the mafter of. the famous Abelard, introduced 
a new doctrine, that there is nothing univerfal 
but words or names. For this, and other here- 
sies, he was much perfecuted. However, by his 
eloquence and abilities, and thofe of his difciple 
Abelard, the doclrine fpread, and thofe who 
followed it were called Nommalifts. His anto- 
gonifts, who held that there are things that arc 
really univerfal, were called Realiits. The 
fcholaftic Philofophers, from the beginning of 
the twelfth century, were divided into thefe two 
feels. Some few took a middle road between 
the contending parties. That univerfality, which 
the Realifts held to be in thing? themfelves, 
2s ominalifts in names only, They held to be nei- 
ther in things nor in names onlv, but in our 
conceptions. On this account they were called 
Cop.ceptualiits : But being expofed to the bat- 

174 ESSAY V. [chap. 6. 

teries of both the oppofite parties, they made no 
great figure. 

When the fed: of Nominal! ft s was like to ex- 
pire, it received new life and fpirit from Occam, 
the difciple of Scorus, in the fourteenth cen- 
tury. Then the difpute about univerfals, a parte 
rei, was revived with the greateft animofity in 
the fchools of Britain, France, and Germany, 
and carried on, not by arguments only, but by 
bitter reproaches, blows, and bloody affrays, un- 
til the doctrines of Luther and the other Re- 
formers turned the attention of the learned 
world to more important fubject.s. 

After the revival of learning, Mr Hobbes 
adopted the opinion of the Nominalifts. Human 
Nature, chap. 5. feet. 6. " It is plain, therefore, 
" fays he, that there is nothing univerfal but 
" names." And in his Leviathan, part 1. chap. 4. 
" There being nothing univerfal but names, pro- 
" pet names bring to mind one thing only ; uni- 
" verfals recal any one of many." 

Mr Locke, according to the divifion before 
mentioned, I think, may be accounted a Con- 
ceptualift. He does not maintain that there are 
things that are univerfal \ but that we have ge- 
neral or univerfal ideas which we form by ab- 
ftraction ; and this power of forming abftract 
and general ideas, he conceives to be that which 
makes the chief diftindlion in point of under- 
standing between men an4 brutes, 



Mr Locke's doctrine about abftraction has 
been combated by two very powerful antago- 
nists, Bifhop Berkeley and Mr Hume, who 
have taken up the opinion of the Nominalifis. 
The former thinks, " That the opinion, that 
'* the mind hath a power of forming abftract 
" ideas, cr notion of things, has had a chief part 
" in rendering fpeculation intricate and per- 
il plexed, and has occafioned innumerable errors 
" and difficulties in almolt all parts of know- 
" ledge." That " abltract ideas are like a fine 
" and fubtile net, which has miferably perplexed 
" and entangled the minds of men, with this 
" peculiar circumftance, that by how much the 
" finer and more curious was the wit of any 
" man, by fo much the deeper was he like to be 
" enfnared, and fafter held therein." That 
" among all the falfe principles that have ob- 
f* tained in the world, there is none hath a more 
" wide influence over the thoughts of fpecula- 
" tive men than this of abftract general ideas." 

The good Bifhop therefore, in twenty-four 
pages of the Introduction to his Principles of 
Human Knowledge, encounters this principle 
with a zeal proportioned to his appreheniion of 
its malignant and extenfive influence. 

That the zeal of the fceptical Philofcpher 
againfl; abftract ideas was almoft equal to that of 
the Bifhop, appears from his words, Treatife of 
Human Nature, book i. part i. feci. 7. " iA 

" verv 

1/6 fcSSAY V. £ CHAP. 6\ 

•' very material queftion has been flarted con- 
" cerning abfiraer. or general ideas, "whether thev 
" be general or particular in the mind's concep- 
41 tion of them ? A great Philosopher (he means 
M Dv Berkeley) has dilputed the received opi- 
" nion in this particular, and has alTerted, that 
m a ]j general ideas are nothing but particular 
•' ones annexed to a certain term, which gives 
" them a more exteniive fignification, and makes 
" them recal upon occaiion other individuals 
" which are fimilar to them. As I look upon 
" this to be one of the greatell and moil valuable 
M difcoveries that have been made of late years 
" in the republic of letters, I ihall here endea- 
w vour to conlirm it by fome arguments, which 
44 I hope will put it beyond all doubt and con- 
M troveriy."' 

I ihall make an end of this fubject, with 
fome reflections on what has been laid upon it 
bv thefe two eminent Philoibphers. 

I. Fir/If I apprehend that we cannot, with 
propriety, be laid to have abftracl and general 
ideas, either in the popular or in the philofophi- 
cal feme of that word. In the popular fenfe an 
idea is a thought : it is the act of the mind in 
thinking, or in conceiving any object. This act 
of the mind is always an individual act, and 
therefore there can be no general idea in this 
fenfe. In the philofophical fenfe, an idea is an 
image in the mind, or in the brain, which in 



Mr Locke's fyftem is the immediate object of 
thought ; in the fyftem of Berkeley and Hume 
the only object of thought. I believe there are 
no ideas of this kind, and therefore no abftract 
general ideas. Indeed, if there were really fuch 
images in the mind, or in the brain, they could 
not be general, becaufe every thing that reaiiy 
exifts is an individual. Univerfals are neither 
acts of the mind, nor images in the mind. 

As therefore there are no general ideas in 
either of the fenfes in which the word idea is 
ufed by the moderns, Berkeley and Hume have 
in this queftion an advantage over Mr Locke \ 
and their arguments againft him are good ad ho- 
minem. They faw farther than he did into the 
juft confequences of the hypothefis concerning 
ideas, which was common to them and to him ; 
and they reafbned juftly from this hypothefis, 
when they concluded from it, that there is nei- 
ther a- material world, nor any fuch power in 
the human mind as that of abftraction. 

A triangle, in general, or any other univerfal, 
might be called an idea by a Platonift ; but, in the 
ftyle of modern philofophy, it is not an idea, nor 
do we ever afcribe to ideas the properties of tri- 
angles. It is never faid of any idea, that it has 
three lides and three angles. We do not fpeak 
of equilateral, ifofceles, or fcalene ideas, nor of 
right angled, acute angled, or obtufe angled ideas. 
And if thefe attributes do not belong to ideas, it 

Vot. IT. M follow?. 

I7§ ESSAY V. {CHAP. 6. 

follows necefTarily, that a triangle is not an idea. 
The fame reafoning may be applied to every 
other univerfal. 

Ideas are faid to have a real exiftence in the 
mind, at leaft, while we think of them ; but uni- 
verfals have no real exiftence. When we afcribe 
exiftence to them, it is not an exittence in time 
pr place, but exiftence in fome individual fub- 
jecl: ; and this exiftence means no more but that 
they are truly attributes of fuch a fubject. Their 
exiftence is nothing but predicability, or the ca- 
pacity of being attributed to a fubject. The 
name of predicables, which was given them in 
ancient philofophy, is that which moft properly 
expreffes their nature. 

2. I think it muft be granted, in the fecond 
place, that univerfals cannot be the objects of 
imagination, when we take that word in its ftrict 
and proper fenfe. " I find, fays Berkeley, " I 
" have a faculty of imagining or reprefenting to 
" myfelf the ideas of thofe particular things I 
" have perceived, and of varioufly compounding 
" and dividing them. I can imagine a man 
" with two heads, or the upper parts of a man 
" joined to the body of a horfe. I can imagine 
** the hand, the eye, the nofe, each by itfelf, 
f* abftracted or feparated from the reft of the 
£' body. But then, whatever hand or eye I 
f imagine, it muft have fome particular fhape or 
ii colour. Likewife, the idea of a, man that I 

" frame 


4i frame to myfelf mull be either of a white, or 
" a black, or a tawny, a ftraight or a crooked, a 
" tall, or a low, or a middle-lized man." 

I believe every man will find in himfelf what 
this ingenious author found, that he cannot ima- 
gine a man without colour, or ftature, or fhape. 

Imagination, as we before obferved, properly 
fignifies a conception of the appearance an object 
would make to the eye, if actually feen. An 
univerfal is not an objed of any external fenfe, 
and therefore cannot be imagined ; but it may 
be diftindly conceived. When Mr Pope fays, 
" The proper ftudy of mankind is man," 1 con- 
ceive his meaning diftindly, though I neither 
imagine a black or a white, a crooked or a 
ftraight man. The diftindion between concep- 
tion and imagination is real, though it be too 
often overlooked, and the w T ords taken to be fy- 
nonimous. I can conceive a thing that is im- 
poffible, but I cannot diftindly imagine a thing 
that is impoflible. I can conceive a propofition 
or a demonftration, but I cannot imagine either. 
I can conceive underftanding and will, virtue 
and vice, and other attributes of mind, but I 
cannot imagine them. In like manner, I can di- 
ftindly conceive univerfals, but I cannot imagine 

As to the manner how we conceive univerfals, 
I confefs my ignorance. I know not how I hear, 
or fee, or remember, and as little do 1 know how 

JM2 I 

180 ESSAY v. [chap. 6, 

I conceive things that have no exigence. In all 
our original faculties, the fabric and manner of 
operation is, I apprehend, beyond our compre- 
henfion, and perhaps is perfectly underftood by 
him only who made them. 

But we ought not to deny a fact, of which we 
are confcious, though we know not how it is 
brought about. And I think we may be cer- 
tain that univerfals are not conceived by means 
of images of them in our minds, becaufe there 
can be no image of an universal. 

3. It feems to me, that on this queftion Mr 
Locke and his two antagonifts have divided the 
truth between them. He faw very clearly, that 
the power of forming abflract and general con- 
ceptions is one of the molt diftinguilhing powers 
of the human mind, and puts a fpecific difference 
between man and the brute creation. But he 
did not fee that this power is perfectly irrecon- 
cileable to his doctrine concerning ideas. 

His opponents faw this inconfiftency ; but, in- 
stead of rejecting the hypothec's of ideas, they 
explain away the power of abftraction, and leave 
no fpecific diftinction between the human un- 
derstanding and that of brutes. 

4. Berkeley, in his reafoning againft abilract 
general ideas, feems unwillingly or unwarily to 
grant all that is neceffary to fupport abflract and 
general conceptions. 


" A man, he fays, may confider a figure mere- 
" ly as triangular, without attending to the par- 
" ticular qualities of the angles, or relations of 
" the fides. So far he may abftract. But this 
" will never prove that he can frame an abftraft 
" general inconiiftent idea of a triangle." 

If a man may confider a figure merely as tri- 
angular, he mult have fome conception of this 
objed of his confideration : For no man can 
Confider a thing which he does not conceive. 
He has a conception, therefore, of a triangular 
figure, merely as fuch. I know no more that is 
meant by an abftract general conception of a 

He that conliders a figure merely as triangular, 
mufl underftand what is meant by the word tri- 
angular. If to the conception he joins to this 
word, he adds any particular quality of angles 
or relation of fides, he mifunderftands it, and 
does not confider the figure merely as triangular. 
Whence I think it is evident, that he who con- 
fiders a figure merely as triangular mud have 
the conception of a triangle, abftract in g from 
any quality of angles or relation of fides. 

The Bifhop, in like manner, grants " That 
" we may confider Peter fo far forth as man, or 
" fo far forth as animal, without framing the 
" forementioned abftract idea, in as much as all 
" that is perceived is not confidered." It may 
here be obierved, that he who confiders Peter 
M 3 fo 

1.82 ESSAY V. [CHAP. 6. 

fo far forth as man, or fo far forth as animal, mud 
conceive the meaning of thofe abftract general 
words man and animal, and he who conceives the 
meaning of them, has an abftract general con- 

From thefe conceffions, one would be apt to- 
conclude that the Bifhop thinks that we can ab- 
ftract., but that we cannot frame abftract. ideas ;, 
and in this I mould agree with him. But I can- 
not reconcile his conceffions with the general 
principle he lays down before. " To be plain," 
fays he, " I deny that I can abftrac~l one from 
" another, or conceive feparately thofe qualities 
" which it is impoffible mould exift fo fepara- 
" ted-" This appears to me inconfiftent with 
the conceffions above mentioned, and inconfift- 
ent with experience. 

If we can confider a figure merely as triangular, 
without attending to the particular quality of 
the angles or relation of the fides, this, I think, 
is conceiving feparately things which cannot ex- 
ift fo feparated : For furely a triangle cannot 
exift without a particular quality of angles and 
relation cf fides. And it is well known from 
experience, that a man may have a diftindl con- 
ception of a triangle, without having any con- 
ception or knowledge of many of the properties 
without which a triangle cannot exift. 

Let us next confider the Bifhop's notion of 
generalifing. He does not abfolutely deny that 



there are general ideas, but only that there are 
abftracl general ideas. " An idea," he lays, 
" which, confidered in itfelf, is particular, be- 
" comes general, by being made to reprefent or 
" ftand for all other particular ideas of the fame 
" fort. To make this plain by an example, Sup- 
" pofe a Geometrician is demonft rating the me- 
" thod of cutting a line in two equal parts. He 
" draws, for inftance, a black line of an inch in 
" length. This, which is in itfelf a particular 
" line, is neverthelefs, with regard to its fignift- 
" cation, general ; fince, as it is there ufed, it re- 
" prefents all particular lines whatfoever; fo that 
" what is demonftrated of it, is demonftrated of 
" all lines, or, in other words, of a line in gene- 
" ral. And as that particular line becomes gene- 
" ral by being made a fign, fo the name line, 
" which, taken abfolutely, is particular, by be- 
*' ing a fign, is made general." 

Here I obferve, that when a particular idea is 
made a fign to reprefent and ftand for all of a 
fort, this fuppofes a diftindtion of things into 
forts or fpecies. To be of a fort implies having 
thofe attributes which characterife the fort, and 
are common to all the individuals that belong 
to it. There cannot, therefore, be a fort with- 
out general attributes, nor can there be any con- 
ception of a fort without a conception of thofe 
general attributes which diilinguilh it. The 
M 4 conception 

184 ESSAY V. [CHAP. 6. 

conception of a fort, therefore, is an abftract ge- 
neral conception. 

The particular idea cannot furely be made a 
fign of a thing of which we have no conception. 
I do not fay that you mud have an idea of the 
fort, but furely you ought to underftand or con- 
ceive what it means, when you make a particu- 
lar idea a reprefentative of it, otherwife your 
particular idea reprefents, you know not what. 

When I demonstrate any general property of 
a triangle, fuch as, that the three angles are 
equal to two right angles, I mud underftand or 
conceive diftinctly what is common to all tri- 
angles. I muft diftinguifh the common attri- 
butes of all triangles from thofe wherein parti- 
cular triangles may differ. And if I conceive 
diftinctly what is common to all triangles, with- 
out confounding it with what is not fo, this is to 
form a general conception of a triangle. And 
without this, it is impoffible to know that the 
demonftration extends to all triangles. 

The Bifhop takes particular notice of this ar- 
gument, and makes this anfvver to it. " Though 
" the idea I have in view, whilfi I make the de- 
" monftration, be, for inftance, that of an ifo- 
" fceles rectangular triangle, whofe fides are of 
" a determinate length, I may neverthelefs be 
" certain that it extends to all other rectilinear 
" triangles, of what fort or bignefs ibever ; and. 
" that becauie neither the right angle, nor the 

" equality 


" equality or determinate length of the fides, 
" are at all concerned in the demonft ration." 

But if he do not, in the idea he has in view, 
clearly diftinguifh what is common to all trian- 
gles from what is not, it would be impoffible to 
difcern whether fomething that is not common 
be concerned in the demonftration or not. In 
order, therefore, to perceive that the demonftra- 
tion extends to all triangles, it is neceflary to 
have a diftinct conception of what is common to 
all triangles, excluding from that conception all 
that is not common. And this is all I under- 
ftand by an abftract general conception of a tri- 

Berkeley catches an advantage to his fide of 
the queftion, from what Mr Locke expreffes 
(too ftrongly indeed) of the difficulty of fram- 
ing abftract general ideas, and the pains and 
(kill neceflary for that purpofe. From which 
the Biftiop infers, that a thing fo difficult cannot 
be neceflary for communication by language, 
which is fo eafy and familiar to all forts of men. 

There may be fome abftract and general con- 
ceptions that are difficult, or even beyond the 
reach of perfons of weak understanding ; but 
there are innumerable, which are not beyond 
the reach of children. It is impoffible to learn 
language without acquiring general conceptions ; 
for there cannot be a fingle fentence without 
them. I believe the forming thefe, and being 


l86 ESSAY v. [chap. 6. 

able to articulate the founds of language, make 
up the whole difficulty that children find in 
learning language at firft. 

But this difficulty, we fee, they are able to 
overcome fo early as not to remember the pains 
it coil them. They have the ftrongeft induce- 
ment to exert all their labour and (kill, in order 
to underfland, and to be underflood ; and they 
no doubt do fo. 

The labour of forming abflracl notions, is the 
labour of learning to fpeak, and to underfland 
what is fpoken. As the words of every lan- 
guage, excepting a few. proper names, are gene- 
ral words, the minds of children are furnifhed 
with general conceptions, in proportion as they 
learn the meaning of general words. I believe 
nioft men have hardly any general notions but 
thofe which are expreffed by the general words 
they hear and ufe in converfation. The mean- 
ing of fome of thefe is learned by a definition, 
which at once conveys a diflincl and accurate 
general conception. The meaning of other ge- 
neral words we collecl, by a kind of induction, 
from the way in which we fee them ufed on va- ■ 
rious occafions, by thofe who underfland the 
language. Of thefe our conception is often lefs 
diflincl, and in different perfons is perhaps not 
perfectly the fame. 

" Is it not a hard thing," fays the Bifhop, 
u that a couple of children cannot prate toge- 

" the* 


f* ther of their fugar-plumbs and rattles, and the 
" reft of their little trinkets, till they have firft 
*' tacked together numberlefs inconfiftencies, and 
" fo formed in their minds ab {tract general 
" ideas, and annexed them to every common 
" name they make ufe of." 

However hard a thing it may be, it is an evi- 
dent truth, that a couple of children, even a- 
bout their fugar-plumbs and their rattles, can- 
not prate fo as to underftand, and be under- 
ftood, until they have learned to conceive the 
meaning of many general words, and this, 1 
think, is to have general conceptions. 

5. Having conlidered the fentiments of Bi- 
fliop Berkeley on this fubjec"t, let us next at- 
tend to thofe of Mr Hume, as they are expreff- 
ed, part 1. feet. 7. Treatife of Human Nature; 
He agrees perfectly with the Biihop, " That all 
" general ideas are nothing but particular ones 
" annexed to a certain term, which gives them 
" a more extenfive fignification, and makes them 
" recal upon occalion other individuals which 
" are fimilar to them. A particular idea be- 
" comes general, by being annexed to a genera]: 
" term ; that is, to a term, which, from a cufto- 
" mary conjunction, has a relation to many o- 
" ther particular ideas, and readily recals them 
" in the imagination. Abftracl ideas are there- 
" fore in themfelves- individual, however they 
" may become general in their reprefentation, 

" The 

i88 essay v. [cttAp. & 

" The image in the mind is only that of a par- 
" ticular object, though the application of it in 
" our reafoning be the fame as if it was univer- 
" fal." 

Although Mr Hume looks upon this to be one 
of the greateft and mod valuable difcoveries that 
has been made of late years in the republic of 
letters, it appears to be no other than the opi- 
nion of the Nominalifts, about which fo much 
difpute was held from the beginning of the 
twelfth century down to the Reformation, and 
which was afterwards fupported by Mr Hobbes* 
I mail briefly confider the arguments, by which 
Mr Hume hopes to have put it beyond all doubt 
and controverfy. 

Firjl, He endeavours to prove, by three argu- 
ments, that it is utterly impoflible to conceive 
any quantity or quality, without forming a pre- 
cife notion of its degrees. 

This is indeed a great undertaking ; but if he 
could prove it, it is not fufhcient for his purpofe ; 
for two reafons. 

Firjl, Becaufe there are many attributes of 
things, belides quantity and quality ; and it is 
incumbent upon him to prove, that it is impof- 
lible to conceive any attribute, without forming 
a precife notion of its degree. Each of the ten 
categories of Aristotle is a genus, and may be 
an attribute : And if he mould prove of two of 
them, to wit, quantity and quality, that there 



can be no general conception of them ; there re- 
main eight behind, of which this mud be prov- 

The other reafon is, becaufe, though it were 
impoffible to conceive any quantity or quality, 
without forming a precife notion of its degree, 
it does not follow that it is impoffible to have a 
general conception even of quantity and quality. 
The conception of a pound troy is the concep- 
tion of a quantity, and of the precife degree of 
that quantity > but it is an abftract general con- 
ception notwithstanding, becaufe it may be the 
attribute of many individual bodies, and of ma- 
ny kinds of bodies. He ought therefore to have 
proved, that we cannot conceive quantity or 
quality, or any other attribute, without joining 
it infeparably to fome individual fubject. 

This remains to be proved, which will be 
found no eafy matter. For inftance, I conceive 
what is meant by a Japanefe as diftinctly as 
what is meant • by an Englimman or a French- 
-man. It is true, a Japanefe is neither quantity 
nor quality, but it is an attribute common to 
every individual of a populous nation. 1 never 
faw an individual of that nation, and, if I can 
trull my confcioufnefs, the general term does not 
lead me to imagine one individual of the fort as 
a reprefentative of all others. 

Though Mr Hume, therefore, undertakes 
much, yet, if he could prove all he undertakes 


t$0 ESSAY V. [CHAP. 6. 

to prove, it would by no means be fufficient to 
fhew that we have no abftract general concep- 

Palling this, let us- attend to his arguments for 
proving this extraordinary pofition, that it is 
impoffible to conceive any quantity or quality, 
without forming a precife notion of its degree. 

The firil argument is, that it is impoffible to 
diftmguifh things that are not actually feparable. 
" The precife length of a line is not different or 
" diftinguifhable from the line." 

I have before endeavoured to fhew, that things 
infeparable in their nature may be diftinguifhed 
in our conception. And we need go no farther 
to be convinced of this, than the inftance here 
brought to prove the contrary. The precife 
length of a line, he fays, is not diftinguifhable 
from the line. When I fay, this is a line, I fay 
and mean one thing. When I fay it is a line of 
three inches, I fay and mean another thing. If 
this be not to diftinguilh the precife length of 
the line from the line, I know not what it is to 

Second argument. " Every object of fenfe, 
" that is, every impreflion, is an individual, ha- 
" ving its determinate degrees of quantity and 
" quality : But whatever is true of the impref- 
" fion is true of the idea, as they differ in no- 
" thing but their ftrength and vivacity." 
, ' The 


The conclufion in this argument is indeed 
juftly drawn from the premifes. If it be true 
that ideas differ in nothing from objects of fenfe 
but in ftrength and vivacity, as it mud be grant- 
ed that all the objects of fenfe are individuals, it 
will certainly follow that all ideas are indivi- 
duals. Granting therefore the juftnefs of this 
conclufion, I beg leave to draw two other con- 
clusions from the fairfe premifes, which will fol- 
low no lefs neceffarily. 

Firji, If ideas differ from the objects of fenfe 
only in ftrength and vivacity, it will follow, that 
the idea of a lion is a lion of lefs ftrength and 
vivacity. And hence may arife a very import- 
ant queftion, Whether the idea of a lion may 
not tear in pieces and devour the ideas of fheep, 
oxen, and horfes, and even of men, women, and 
children ? 

Secondly, If ideas differ only in ftrength and 
vivacity from the objects of fenfe, it will follow, 
that objects, merely conceived, are not ideas ; 
for fuch objects differ from the objects of fenfe 
in refpecls of a very different nature from ftrength 
and vivacity. Every object of fenfe muft have 
a real exiftence, and time and place : But things 
merely conceived may neither have exiftence, 
nor time nor place ; and therefore, though there 
(hould be no abftract ideas, it does not follow, 
that things abftract and general may not be con- 


las ESSAY v. [chap. 6. 

The third argument is this : " It is a prin- 
" ciple generally received in philofophy, that 
" every thing in nature is individual ; and that 
" it is utterly abfurd to fuppofe a triangle really 
" ex.ift.ent, which has no precife proportion of 
" fides and angles. If this, therefore, be abfurd 
" in facT; and reality, it muft be abfurd in idea, 
" fince nothing of which we can form a clear 
" and diftind: idea is abfurd or impoffible." 

I acknowledge it to be impoffible, that a tri- 
angle mould really exift which has no precife 
proportion of fides and angles ; and impoffible 
that any being mould exift which is not an in- 
dividual being ; for, I think, a being and an in- 
dividual being mean the fame thing : But that 
there can be no attributes common to many in- 
dividuals, I do not acknowledge. Thus, to many 
figures that really exift, it may be common that 
they are triangles ; and to many bodies that 
exift, it may be common that they are fluid. 
Triangle and fluid are not beings, they are at- 
tributes of beings. 

As to the principle here afiumed, that nothing 
of which we can form a clear and diftincl idea 
is abfurd or impoffibie, I refer to what was faid 
upon it, chap. 3. Eflay 4. It is evident, that 
in every mathematical demonftration, ad abjur- 
dum, of which kind almoft one half of mathe- 
matics confifts, we are required to fuppofe, and 
ponfequently to conceive a thing that is impof- 



fible. From that fuppofition we reafon, until 
we come to a conclufion that is not only impof- 
fible but abfurd. From this we infer, that the 
proposition fuppofed at firft is impoffible, and 
therefore that its contradictory is true. 

As this is the nature of all demonftrations ad 
abfurd urn, it is evident, (I do not fay that we can 
have a clear and diftincl: idea, but) that we can 
clearly and diftinctly conceive things impoffible. 

The reft of Mr Hume's dilcourfe upon this 
fubject is employed in explaining how an indi- 
vidual idea, annexed to a general term, may 
ferve all the purpofes in reafoning, which have 
been afcribed to abftract general ideas. 

" When we have found a refemblance among 
" feveral objects that often occur to us, we apply 
" the fame name to all of them, whatever differ- 
" ences we may ob ferve in the degrees of their 
fl quantity and quality, and whatever other dif- 
" ferences may appear among them. After we 
" have acquired a cuftom of this kind, the hear- 
" ing of that name revives the idea of one of 
" thefe objects, and makes the imagination con- 
" ceive it, with all its circumstances and pro- 
" portions." But along with this idea, there is 
a readinefs to furvey any other of the individu- 
als to which the name belongs, and to obferve, 
that no conclufion be formed contrary to any of 
them. If any fuch conclufion is formed, thofe 
individual ideas which contradi6t it, immediate- 

Vol. II. N ly 

194 ESSAY v. [chap. 6, 

ly crowd in upon us, and make us perceive the 
falfehood of the propofition. If the mind iug- 
geu not always thefe ideas upon occafion, it pro- 
ceeds from fome imperfection in its faculties ; 
and fuch a one as is often the fource of falfe rea- 
foiling and fophiftry. 

This is in fubftance the way in which he ac- 
counts fo: what he calls " the foregoing para- 
" dox, that fome ideas are particular in their 
" nature, but general in their reprefentation." 
Upon this account I fhall make fome remarks. 

i. He allows that we find a refemblance 
among feveral objects, and fuch a refemblance as 
leads us to apply the fame name to all of them. 
This concefiion is fufficient to mew that we have 
general conceptions. There can be no refem- 
blance in objects that have no common attri- 
bute ; and if there be attributes belonging in 
common to feveral objects, and in man a faculty 
to obferve and conceive thefe, and to give names" 
to them, this is to have general conceptions. 

I believe indeed we may have an indiftinet 
perception of refemblance, without knowing 
wherein it lies. Thus, I may fee a refemblance 
between one face and another, when I cannot 
diftinctly fay in what feature they refemble : 
But by analysing the two faces, and comparing 
feature with feature, I may form a diftinct notion 
of that which is common to both. A painter, 
being accuftomed to an analyfis of this kind, 



would have formed a diftincl: notion of this re- 
femblance at firft light \ to another man it may 
require fome attention. 

There is therefore an indiftincl: notion of re- 
femblance when we compare the objects only 
in grofs ; and this I believe brute animals may 
have. There is alfo a diftincl; notion of refem- 
blance, when we analyfe the objects into their 
different attributes, and perceive them to agree 
in fome, while they differ in others. It is in this 
cafe only that we give a name to the attributes 
wherein they agree, which muft be a common 
name, becaufe the thing fignified by it is com- 
mon. Thus, when I compare cubes of differ- 
ent matter, I perceive them to have this attri- 
bute in common, that they are comprehended 
under fix equal fquares ; and this attribute only, 
is fignified by applying the name of cube to them 
all. When I compare clean linen with fnow, 
I perceive them to agree in colour ; and when 
I apply the name of white to both, this name 
fignifies neither fnow nor clean linen, but the at- 
tribute which is common to both. 

2. The author fays, that when we have found 
a refemblance among feveral objects, we apply 
the fame name to all of them. 

It muft here be obferved, that there are two 
kinds of names which the author feems to con- 
found, though they are very different in nature, 
and in the power they have in language. There 
N 2 are 

I96 ESSAY V. [CHAP. 6. 

are proper names, and there are common names 
or -appellatives. The firil are the names of indi- 
viduals. The fame proper name is never ap- 
plied to feveral individuals on account of their 
iimilitude, becaufe the very intention of a proper 
name is to diftinguiih one individual from all 
others ; and hence it is a maxim in grammar, 
that proper names have no plural number. A 
proper name fignifies nothing but the individual 
whofe name it is ; and when we apply it to the 
individual, we neither affirm nor deny any thing 
concerning; him. 

A common name or appellative is not the name 
of any individual, but a general term, lignifying 
fomething that is or may be common to feveral 
individuals. Common names therefore iignify 
common attributes. Thus, when I apply the 
name of fon or brother to feveral perfons, this 
iignines and affirms that this attribute is com- 
mon to all of them. 

From this it is evident, that the applying the 
fame name to feveral individuals, on account of 
their refemblance, can, in confiftence with gram- 
mar and common fenfe, mean nothing; elfe than 
the expreffing by a general term fomething that 
is common to thofe individuals, and which there- 
fore may oe truly affi med of them all. 

3. The author fays, " Ic is certain that we 
" form the idea of individual, whenever v\e ufe 
" any general term. The word rai . s up an 

" individual 

Opinions about universals. 197 

" individual idea, and makes the imagination 
" conceive it, with all its particular circumftances 
" and proportions." 

This fact he takes a great deal of pains to ac- 
count for, from the effect of cuftom. 

But the fact ihouid be afcertained before we 
take pains to account for it. I can fee no rea- 
fon to believe the fad ; and I think a farmer 
can talk of his fheep, and his black cattle, with- 
out conceiving in his imagination one indivi- 
dual, with all its circumftances and proportions., 
If this be true, the whole of his theory of ge- 
neral ideas falls to the ground. To me it ap- 
pears, that when a general term is well under- 
stood, it is only by accident if it fuggeft fome in- 
dividual of the kind ; but this efTed is by no 
means conftanL 

I underftand perfectly what Mathematicians 
call a line of the fifth order ; yet I never con- 
ceived in my imagination any one of the kind in 
all its circumftances and proportions. Sir Isaac 
Newton firft formed a diftinct general concep- 
tion of lines of the third order ; and afterwards, 
by great labour and deep penetration, found Out 
and defcribed the particular fpecies comprehend- 
ed under that general term. According to Mr 
Hume's theory, he mult firft have been acquaint- 
ed with the particulars^ and then have learned 
by cuftom to apply one general name to all of 

N 3 The 

IpS ESSAY V. [ CHAP. 6, 

The author obferves, " That the idea of an e* 
" quilateral triangle of an inch perpendicular^ 
" may ferve us in talking of a figure, a rectili- 
" near figure, a regular figure, a triangle, and 
" an equilateral triangle." 

I anfwer, The man that ufes thefe general 
terms, either underftands their meaning, or he 
does not. If he does not understand their mean- 
ing, all his talk about them will be found only 
without fenfe, and the particular idea mention- 
ed cannot enable him to fpeak of them with un- 
derftanding. If he underftands the meaning of 
the general terms, he will find no ufe for the 
particular idea. 

4. He tells us gravely, " That in a globe of 
" white marble the figure and the colour are un- 
" diftingui (liable, and are in effect the fame." 
How foolifh have mankind been to give different 
names, in all ages and in all languages, to things 
undiftinguifhable, and in effect the fame ? Hence- 
forth, in all books of fcience and of entertainment, 
we may fubftitute figure for colour, and colour 
for figure. By this we fhall make numberlefs 
curious difcoveries, without danger of error. 


nm i in ■— ■<■ 




Of Judgment in general. 

UDGING is an operation of the mind fo fa- 
miliar to every man who hath understand- 
ing, and its name is fo common and fo well un- 
derstood, that it needs no definition. 

As it is impoffible by a definition to give a no- 
tion of colour to a man who never faw colours ; 
fo it is impoffible by any definition to give a di- 
stinct notion of judgment to a man who has not 
often judged, and who is not capable of reflecting 
attentively upon this act of his mind. The belt 
ufe of a definition is to prompt him to that re- 
flection ; and without it the belt definition will 
be apt to miflead him. 

The definition commonly given of judgment. 

by the more ancient writers in logic, was, that it 

N 4 is 

2CO E S 5 A ¥ VI. [CHAP. I. 

is an act of the mind, whereby one thing is af- 
firmed or denied of another. I believe this is 
as good a definition of it as can be given. Why 
I prefer it to tome later definitions, will after- 
wards appear. Without pretending to give any 
other, I fhall make two remarks upon it, and 
then offer fome general observations on this fub- 

i. It is true, that it is by affirmation or denial 
that we exprefs cur judgments : but there may 
be judgment which is not expreifed. It is a 
folitary act of the mind, and the expreffion of it 
by affirmation or denial is not at all efTentiai to 
it. It may be tacit, and not expreffed. Nay, it 
is well known that men may judge contrary to- 
what. they affirm or deny ;. the definition there- 
fore mull be understood of mental affirmation 
or denial, which indeed is only another name 
for judgment. 

2. Affirmation and denial is very often the- 
expreffion of teftimony, which is a different act 
of the mind, and ought to be diitinguifhed from 

A judge aiks of a witnefs what he knows of 
fuch a matter to which he was an eye or ear wit- 
nefs. He anfwers, by affirming or denying fome- 
thing. But his anfwer does not exprefs his judg- 
ment : it is his teftimony. Again, I afk a man 
"his opinion in a matter of fcience or of criti- 



cifm. His anfwer is not teftimony ; it is the 
expreffion of his judgment. 

Teftimony is a focial aft, and it is eflential to 
it to be expreffed by words or iigns. A tacit 
teftimony is a contradiction : But there is no 
contradiction in a tacit judgment \ it is com- 
plete without being exprefled. 

In teftimony a man pledges his veracity for 
what he affirms ; fo that a falfe teftimony is a 
lie : But a wrong judgment is not a lie; it is 
only an error. 

I believe, in all languages, teftimony and 
judgment are expreiTed by the fame form of 
fpeech. A propofition affirmative or negative, 
with a verb in what is called the indicative 
mood, expreffes both. To diftinguifh them by 
the form of fpeech, it would be neceffary that 
verbs mould have two indicative moods, one for 
teftimony, and another to exprefs judgment. I 
know not that this is found in any language. 
And the reafon is, (not furely that the vulgar 
cannot diftinguifh the two, for every man knows 
the difference between a lie and an error of 
judgment), but that, from the matter and cir- 
cumftances, we can eafily fee whether a man in- 
tends to give his teftimony, or barely to exprefs 
his judgment. 

Although men mult have judged in many 
cafes before tribunals of juftice were erecled, 
yet it is very probable that there were tribunals 



before men began to fpeculate about judgment, 
and that the word may be borrowed from the 
practice of tribunals. As a judge, after taking 
the proper evidence, pafTes fentence in a caufe, 
and that fentence is called his judgment ; fo the 
mind, with regard to whatever is true or falfe, 
paffes fentence, or determines according to the 
evidence that appears. Some kinds of evidence 
leave no room for doubt. Sentence is parTed 
immediately, without feeking or hearing any 
contrary evidence, becaufe the thing is certain 
and notorious. In other cafes, there is room for 
weighing evidence on both fides before fentence 
is palTed. The analogy between a tribunal of 
juftice and this inward tribunal of the mind, is 
too obvious to efcape the notice of any man who 
ever appeared before a judge. And it is pro- 
bable, that the word judgment, as well as many 
other words we ufe in fpeaking of this opera- 
tion of mind, are grounded on this analogy. 

Having premifed thefe things, that it may be 
clearly underftood what I mean by judgment, I 
proceed to make forne general obfervations con- 
cerning it. 

Firji, Judgment is an act of the mind fpeci- 

fically diiferent from fimple apprehenlion, or 

the bare conception of a thing. It would be 

unneceifary to obferve this, if fome Philofophers 

had not been led by their theories to a contrary 




Although there can be no judgment without 
a conception of the things about which we 
judge ; yet conception may be without any judg- 
ment. Judgment can be expreffed by a propo- 
rtion only, and a propofition is a complete fen- 
tence ; but fimple appreheniion may be expref- 
fed by a word or words, which make no com- 
plete fentence. When fimple appreheniion is 
employed about a propofition, every man knows 
that it is one thing to apprehend a propofition, 
that is, to conceive what it means ; but it is 
quite another thing to judge it to be true or 

It is felf-evident, that every judgment mult be 
either true or falfe ; but fimple appreheniion or 
conception can neither be true nor falfe, as was 
fhewn before. 

One judgment may be contradictory to ano- 
ther ; and it is impofhble for a man to have two 
judgments at the fame time, which he perceives 
to be contradictory. But contradictory propo- 
rtions may be conceived at the fame time with- 
out any difficulty. That the fun is greater than 
the earth, and that the fun is not greater than 
the earth, are contradictory propofitions. He 
that apprehends the meaning of one, apprehends 
the meaning of both. But it is impofhble for 
him to judge both to be true at the fame time. 
He knows that if the one is true, the other mud; 
be falfe. For thele reafons, I hold it to be cer- 

204 ESSAY VI. [CHAP. I. 

tain, that judgment andfimple appreheniion are 
acts of the mind fpecifically different. 

Secondly, There are notions or ideas that ought 
to be referred to the faculty of judgment as their 
fource ; becaufe, if we had not that faculty, they 
could not enter into our minds ; and to thofe 
that have that faculty, and are capable of reflec- 
ting upon its operations, they are obvious and 

Among thefe we may reckon the notion of 
judgment itfelf ; the notions of a propofition, of 
its fubjedt, predicate, and copula ; of affirmation 
and negation, of true and falfe, of knowledge, 
belief, difbelief, opinion, affent, evidence. From 
no fource could we acquire thefe notions, but 
from reflecting upon our judgments. Relations 
of things make one great clafs of our notions or 
ideas ; and we cannot have the idea of any re- 
lation without fome exercife of judgment* as 
will appear afterwards. 

Thirdly, In perfons come to years of under- 
Handing, judgment necelfarily accompanies all 
fenfation, perception by the fenies, confcioufnefs, 
and memory, but not conception. 

I reftricl: this to perfons come to the years of 
underftanding, becaufe it may be a queftion, 
whether infants, in the firft period of life, have 
any judgment or belief at all. The fame queftion 
may be put with regard to brutes and fome 
idiots. This queftion is foreign to the prefent 

fubjecl: ; 


fubjedr. ; and I fay nothing here about it, but 
fpeak only of perfons who have the exercife of 

In them it is evident, that a man who feels 
pain, judges and believes that he is really pained. 
The man who perceives an objed, believes that it 
exifts, and is what he diftindly perceives it to 
be; nor is it in his power to avoid fuch judg- 
ment. And the like may be faid of memory, 
and of confcioufnefs. Whether judgment ought 
to be called a neceffary concomitant of thefe ope- 
rations, or rather a part or ingredient of them, I 
do not difpute ; but it is certain, that all of the'm 
are accompanied with a determination that fome- 
thing is true or falfe, and a confequent belief. 
If this determination be not judgment, itis an ope- 
ration that has got no name ; for it is not fimple 
apprehenfion, neither is it reafoning ; it is a 
mental affirmation or negation ; it may be ex- 
preffed by a propofition affirmative or negative, 
and it is accompanied with the firmeft belief. 
Thefe are the charaderiftics of judgment ; and I 
muft call it judgment, till I can find another 
name to it. 

The judgments we form, are either of things 
neceflary, or of things contingent. That three 
times three is nine ; t! at -he whole is greater 
than a pa.t ; are ji dgments about things necef- 
fary. OuraiTent to ruch neccGury pro ( ofiticns 
is not gioundcd upon any operation of nfe, of 


206 ESSAY VI. [CHAP. I. 

memory, or of confcioufnefs, nor does it require 
their concurrence ; it is unaccompanied by any 
other operation but that of conception, which 
muft accompany all judgment ; we may there- 
fore call this judgment of things neceflary, pure 
judgment. Our judgment of things contingent 
mull always reft upon fome other operation of 
the mind, fuch as fenfe, or memory, or confci- 
oufnefs, or credit in teftimony, which is itfelf 
grounded upon fenfe. 

That I now write upon a table covered with 
green cloth, is a contingent event, which I judge 
to be moll undoubtedly true. My judgment is 
grounded upon my perception, and is a neceflary 
concomitant or ingredient of my perception. 
That I dined with fuch a company yefterday, I 
judge to be true, becaufe I remember it ; and 
my judgment neceflarily goes along with this 
remembrance, or makes a part of it. 

There are many forms of fpeech in common 
language which fhew that the fenfe's, memory 
and confcioufnefs, are confidered as judging fa- 
culties. We fay that a man judges of colours 
by his eye, of founds by his ear. We fpeak of 
the evidence of fenfe, the evidence of memory, 
the evidence of confcioufnefs. Evidence is the 
ground of judgment, and when we fee evidence, 
it is impoffible not to judge. 

When we fpeak of feeing or remembering any 
thing, we indeed hardly ever add that we judge 



it to be true. But the reafon of this appears to 
be, that fuch an addition would be mere fiiper- 
fluity of fpeech, becaufe every one knows, that 
what I fee or remember, I mud judge to be true, 
and cannot do otherwife. 

And for the fame reafon, in fpeaking of any 
thing that is felf-evident or ftrictly demonftrated, 
we do not fay that we judge it to be true. This 
would be fuperfluity of fpeech, becaufe every 
man knows that we muft judge that to be true 
which we hold felf-evident or demonftrated. 

When you fay you faw fuch a thing, or that 
you diftin&ly remember it, or when you fay of 
any proposition that it is felf-evident, or ftrictly 
demonftrated, it would be ridiculous after this 
to afk whether you judge it to be true ; nor 
would it be lefs ridiculous in you to inform us 
that you do. It would be a fuperfluity of fpeech 
of the fame kind as if, not content with faying 
that you faw fuch an object, you fhould add that 
you faw it with your eyes. 

There is therefore good reafon why, in fpeak- 
ing or writing, judgment mould not be exprefsly 
mentioned, when all men know it to be necef- 
farily implied ; that is, when there can be no 
doubt. In fuch cafes, we barely mention the 
evidence. J3ut when the evidence mentioned 
leaves room for doubt, then, without any fuper- 
fluity or tautology, we fay we judge the thing 
to be fo, becaufe this is not implied in what was 


208 ESSAY VI. [CHAP. I. 

faid before. A woman with child never fays, 
that, going fuch a journey, fhe carried her child, 
along with her. We know that, while it is in 
her womb, (he mull carry it along with her. 
There are fome operations of mind that may be 
faid to carry judgment in their womb, and can 
no more leave it behind them than the pregnant 
woman can leave her child. Therefore, in fpeak- 
ing of fuch operations, it is not expreifed. 

Perhaps this manner of fpeaking may have 
led Philofophers into the opinion, that in per- 
ception by the fenfes, in memory, and in con- 
fcioufnefs, there is no judgment at all. Becaufe 
it is not mentioned in fpeaking of thefe faculties, 
they conclude that it does not accompany them ; 
that they are only different modes of fimple ap- 
prehenfion, or of acquiring ideas ; and that it is 
no part of their office to judge. 

I apprehend the fame caufe has led Mr Locke 
into a notion of judgment which I take to be 
peculiar to him. He thinks that the mind has 
two faculties converfant about truth and falfe- 
hocd. Firji, knowledge ; and, fecondly, judg- 
ment. In the fkft, the perception of the agree- 
ment or difagreement of the ideas is certain. In 
the fecond, it is not certain, but probable only. 

According to this notion of judgment, it is not 
by judgment that I perceive that two and three 
make five ; it is by the faculty of knowledge. I 
apprehend there can be no knowledge without 



judgment, though there may be judgment with- 
out that certainty which we commonly call 

Mr Locke, in another place of his Effay, tells 
us, " That the notice we have by our fenfes of 
" the exiftence of things without us, though not 
'* altogether fo certain as our intuitive know- 
" ledge, or the deductions of our reafon about 
" abftract ideas, yet is an afiurance that deferves 
" the name of knowledge." I think, by this 
account of it, and by his definitions before given 
of knowledge and judgment, it deferves as well 
the name of judgment. 

That I may avoid difputes about the meaning 
of words, I wifh the reader to understand, that J 
give the name of judgment to every determina- 
tion of the mind concerning what is true or what 
is falfe. This, I think, is what Logicians, from 
the days of Aristotle, have called judgment. 
Whether it be called one faculty, as I think it 
has always been, or whether a Philofopher 
choofes to fplit it into two, feems not very ma- 
terial. And if it be granted, that by our fenfes, 
our memory and confcioufnefs, we not only have 
ideas or fimple apprehenfions, but 'form deter- 
minations concerning what is true, and what is 
falfe ; whether thefe determinations ought to be 
called knowledge or judgment, is of fmall mo- 

Vol. II. O The 

%IQ 1S«AY VS. [CHAP. I, 

The judgments grounded upon the evidence 
of fenfe, of memory, and of eonfcioufnefs, put 
all men upon a level. The Philofqpher, with 
regard to thefe, has no prerogative above the il- 
literate, or even above the favage. 

Their reliance upon the teftimony of thefe 
faculties is as firm and as well grounded as his. 
His fuperiority is in judgments of another kind ; 
in judgments about things abilrad and neceifary. 
And he is unwilling to give the name of judg- 
ment to that wherein the moft ignorant and un- 
improved of the fpecies are his equals. 

But Philofophers have never been able to 
give any definition of judgment which does not 
apply to the determinations of our fenfes, our 
memory, and eonfcioufnefs, nor any definition 
of fimple apprehenfion which can comprehend 
thofe determinations. 

Our judgments of this kind are purely the gift 
of Nature, nor do they admit of improvement by 
culture. The memory of one man may be more 
tenacious than that of another; but both rely 
with equal aiTurance upon what they diftincfly 
remember. One man's fight may be more acute, 
or his feeling more delicate than that of another ; 
but both give equal credit to the diftincl: teiti- 
mony of their fight and touch. 

And as we have this belief by the conftitution 
pf our nature, without any effort of our own, fo 
no effort of ours can overturn it. 



The Sceptic may perhaps perfuade himfelf in 
general, that he has no ground to believe his 
fenfes or his memory : But, in particular cafes 
that are interefting, his difbelief vanifhes, and he 
finds himfelf under a neceffity of believing both. 

Thefe judgments may, in the ftri cleft fenfe, 
be. called judgments of Nature. Nature has fub- 
jected us to them whether we will or not. They 
are neither got, nor can they be loft by any 
ufe or abufe of our faculties ; and it is evident- 
ly neceflary for our prefervation that it ihould 
be fo. For if belief in our fenfes and in our 
memory were to be learned by culture, the race 
of men would perifli before they learned this 
leflbn. It is neceflary to all men for their being 
and prefervation, and therefore is unconditional- 
ly given to all men by the Author of Nature. 

I acknowledge, that if we were to reft in thofe 
judgments of Nature of which we now fpeak, 
without building others upon them, they would 
not entitle us to the denomination of reafonable 
beings. But yet they ought not to be defpifed, 
for they are the foundation upon which the 
grand fuperftruclure of human knowledge muit 
be raifed. And as in other fuperftructures the 
foundation is commonly overlooked, fo it has 
been in this. The more fublime attainments of 
the human mind have attracted the attention of 
Philofophers, while they have bellowed but a 

O 2 carelefs 

212 ESSAY VI. [CHAP. I. 

carelefs glance upon the humble foundation on 
which the whole fabric refts. 

A fourth obfervation is, that fome exercife of 
judgment is neceffary in the formation of all ab- 
ftract and general conceptions, whether more 
fimple or more complex ; in dividing, in defin- 
ing, and in general, in forming all clear and di- 
ftincl: conceptions of things, which are the only 
fit materials of reafoning. 

Thefe operations are allied to each other, and 
therefore I bring them under one obfervation. 
They are more allied to our rational nature than 
thole mentioned in the laft obfervation, and 
therefore are conlidered by themfelves. 

That I may not be miftaken, it may be ob- 
ferved, that I do not fay that abftracl; notions, 
or other accurate notions of things, after they 
have been formed, cannot be barely conceived 
without any exercife of judgment about them, 
I doubt not that they may : But what 1 fay, is, 
that, in theif formation in the mind at firft, 
there muft be fome exercife of judgment. 

It is impoffible to diltinguiih the different at- 
tributes belonging to the fame fubjecl:, without 
judging that they are really different and di- 
ftinguifhable, and that they have that relation 
to the fubjecl which Logicians exprefs, by faying 
that they may be predicated of it. We cannot 
generalise, without judging that the fame attri- 
bute does or may belong to many individuals. 


of judgment in general. 213 

It has been fhewn, that our fimpleft general no- 
tions are formed by thefe two operations of di- 
itinguifhing and generalifing ; judgment there- 
fore is exercifed in forming the fimpleft general 

In thofe that are more complex, and which 
have been fnewn to be formed by combining the 
more fi mple, there is another act of the judg- 
ment required ; for fuch combinations are not 
made at random, but for an end ; and judgment 
is employed in fitting them to that end. We 
form complex general notions for conveniency 
of arranging our thoughts in difcourfe and rea- 
soning ; and therefore, of an infinite number of 
combinations that might be formed, we choofe 
only thofe that are ufeful and necefiary. 

That judgment muft be employed in dividing 
as well as in diftinguifhing, appears evident. It 
is one thing to divide a fubject properly, another 
to cut it in pieces. Hoc non eft dividers, fed /ran- 
ger e rem, faid Cicero, when he cenfured an im- 
proper divifion of Epicurus. Reafon has dif- 
covered rules of divifion, which have been 
known to Logicians more than two thoufand 

There are rules likewife of definition of no 
lefs antiquity and authority. A man may no 
doubt divide or define properly without attend- 
ing to the rules, or even without knowing therm 
But this can only be, when he has judgment to per- 
O 3 ceive 

214 ESSAY VI. * [CHAP. I. 

ceive that to be right in a particular cafe, which 
the rule determines to be right in all cafes. 

I add in general, that, without fome degree 
of judgment, we can form no accurate and di- 
ftincl notions of things •, fo that, one province 
of judgment is, to aid us in forming clear and 
diftincl: conceptions of things, which are the on- 
ly fit materials for reafoning. 

This will probably appear to be a paradox to 
Philofophers who have always confidered the 
formation of ideas of every kind as belonging to 
iimple apprehenfion ; and that the fole province 
of judgment is to put them together in affirma- 
tive or negative propofitions ; and therefore it 
requires fome confirmation. 

Firjl, I think it neceffarily follows, from what 
has been already faid in this obfervatioiv For 
if, without fome degree of judgment, a man can 
neither diftinguilh, nor divide, nor define, nor 
form any general notion, Iimple or complex, he 
furely, without fome degree of judgment, can- 
not have in his mind the materials necefiary to 

There cannot be any propoiition in language 
which does not involve fome general conception. 
The propoiition, that I exijl, which Des Cartes 
thought the firlt of all truths, and the foundation 
of all knowledge, cannot be conceived without 
the conception of exiftence, one of the mo ft ab- 
ftradt general conceptions. A man cannot be- 


Heve his own exiftence, or the exiftence of any- 
thing- he fees or remembers, until he has fo much 
judgment as to diftinguifn things that really 
exift from things which are only conceived. He 
lees a man fix feet high ; he conceives a man 
fixty feet high ; he judges the firft object to 
exift, becaufe he fees it ; the fecond he does not 
judge to exift, becaufe he only conceives it.: 
Now, I would aik, Whether he can attribute ex- 
iftence to the firft object, and not to the fecond, 
without knowing what exiftence means ? It i» 

How early the notion of exiftence enters into 
the .mind, I cannot determine ; bur it muft cer- 
tainly be in the mind, as foon as w T e can affirm 
of any thing, with underftanding, that it exifis. 

In every other propofition, the predicate at 
leaft muft be a general notion ; a pre 'die 'able and 
an univerfal being one. and the fame. Befides 
this, every propofition either affirms or denies. 
And no man can have a diftinct conception of a 
propofition, who does not understand diftinclly 
the meaning of affirming or denying : ' But thefe 
are very general conceptions, and, as was before 
obferved, are derived from judgment, as their 
fource and origin. 

I am fenfible that a ftrong objection may be 

made to this reafoning, and that it may feetn to 

lead to an abfurdity, qr a contradiction. It may 

be faid, that every judgment is a mental affirma- 

O 4 tion 

2l6 ij ESSAY VI. [CHAP. 1. 

tion or negation. If . therefore fome previous 
exercife of judgment be neceifary to underftand 
what is meant by affirmation or negation, the 
exercife of judgment mull go before any judg- 
ment, which is abfurd. 

In like manner, every judgment may be ex- 
preffed by a propofition, and a propofition muft 
be conceived before we can judge of it. If 
therefore we cannot conceive the meaning of a 
propofition without a previous exercife of judg- 
ment, it follows that judgment mull be previous 
to the conception of any propofition, and at the 
fame time that the conception of a propofition 
muft be previous to all judgment, which is a 

The reader may pleafe to obferve, that I have 
limited what I have faid to diftind: conception, 
and fome degree of judgment ; and it is by this 
means I hope to avoid this" labyrinth of abfurdity 
and contradi&ion. The faculties of conception 
and judgment have an infancy and a maturity 
as man has. What I have faid is limited to 
their mature flate. I believe in their infant flate 
they are very weak and indiitincT: ; and that, by 
imperceptible degrees, they grow to maturity f 
each giving aid to the other, and receiving aid 
from it. But which of them firft began this 
friendly intercourfe, is beyond my ability to de- 
termine. It is like the queftion concerning the 
bird and the eg^, 



In the prefent ftate of things, it is true that 
every bird comes from an egg, and every egg 
from a bird ; and each may be faid to be pre- 
vious to the other. But if we go back to the 
origin of things, there mult have been fome 
bird that did not come from any egg, or fome 
egg that did not come from any bird. 

In like manner, in the mature ftate of man, 
diftinct conception of a proportion fuppofes 
fome previous exercife of judgment, and diftinct: 
judgment fuppofes diftinct conception. Each 
may truly be faid to come from the other, as the 
bird from the egg, and the egg from the bird. 
But if %ve trace back this fucceflion to its origin, 
that is, to the firft propofition that was ever con- 
ceived by the man, and the firft judgment he 
ever formed, I determine nothing about them, 
nor do I know in what order, or how they were 
produced, any more than how the bones grow 
in the womb of her that is with child. 

The firft exercife of thefe faculties of concep- 
tion and judgment is hid, like the fources of the 
Nile, in an unknown region. 

The neeefilty of fome degree of judgment to 
clear and diftincl conceptions of things, may, I 
think, be illuftrated by this fimilitude. 

An artift, fuppofe a Carpenter, cannot work 
in his art without tools, and thefe tools mult be 
made by art. The exercife of the art therefore 
is neceffary to make the tools, and the tools are 


Sl8 ESSAY VI. [chap. I. 

neceffary to the exercife of the art* There is 
the fame appearance of contradiction, as in what 
I have advanced concerning the neceffity of fome 
degree of judgment^ in order to form clear and 
diftinct conceptions of things. Thefe are the 
tools we mull ufe in judging and in reafoning,, 
^and without them muft make very bungling 
work ; yet thefe tools cannot be made without 
fome exercife of judgment. 

The neceffity of fome degree of judgment in 
forming accurate and diftinct notions of things 
will further appear, if we confider attentively 
what notions we can form, without any aid of 
judgment, of the objects of fenfe, of the opera- 
tions of our own minds, or of the relations of 

To begin with the objects of fenfe. It is ac- 
knowledged on all hands, that the firft notions 
we have of fenfible objects are got by the ex- 
ternal fenfes only, and probably before judgment 
is brought forth ; but thefe firft notions are nei- 
ther fimple, nor are they accurate and diftinct : 
They are grofs and indiftinct, and like the chaos, 
a rudis indigeftaque moles. Before we can have 
any diftinct notion of this mafs, it muft be ana- 
lysed ; the heterogeneous parts mull be Separat- 
ed in our conception, and the fimple elements, 
which before lay hid in the common mafs, muft 
firft be diftinguiihed, and then put together in- 
to one whole. 



In this way it is that we form diftinclt notions 
even of the objecls of fenfe ; but this analyfis 
and compofition, by habit, becomes fo eafy, and 
is performed fo readily, that we are apt to over- 
look it, and to impute the diftincl notion we have 
formed of the objecl to the fenfes alone ; and 
this we are the more prone to do, becaufe, when 
once we have diftinguifhed . the fenfible qualities 
of the objecl from one another, the fenfe gives 
teftimony to each of them. 

You perceive, for inttance, an objecl white, 
round, and a foot in diameter : I grant that you 
perceive all thefe attributes of the objecl; by 
fenfe ; but if you had not been able to diiiinguifii 
the colour from the figure, and both from the 
magnitude, your fenfes would only have given 
you one complex and confufed notion of all thefe 
mingled together. 

A man who is able to fay with underftanding, 
or to determine in his own mind, that this ob- 
jecl: is white, muft have diftinguiflied whitenefs 
from other attributes. If he has not made this 
diftinclion, he does not underftand what he fays. 

Suppofe a cube of brafs to be prefented at the 
fame time to a child of a year old and to a man. 
The regularity of the figure will attract the at- 
tention of both. Both have the fenfes of light and 
of touch in equal perfection; and therefore, if any 
thing be difcovered in this objecl: by the man, 
which cannot- be difcovered by the child, it muit 



be owing, not to the fenfes, but to forae other 
faculty which the child has not yet attained. 

Firjl, then, the man can eafily diftinguifh the 
body from the furface which terminates it ; 
this the child cannot do. Secondly, The man 
can perceive, that this furface is made up of fix 
planes of the fame figure and magnitude ; the 
child cannot difcover this. Thirdly, The man 
perceives, that each of thefe planes has four 
equal fides, and four equal angles ; and that the 
oppofite fides of each plane, and the oppofite 
planes are parallel. 

It will furely be allowed, that a man of ordi- 
nary judgment may obferve all this in a cube 
which he makes an object of contemplation, 
an4 takes time to confider ; that he may give the 
name of a fquare, to a plane terminated by four 
equal fides and four equal angles ; and the name 
of a cube, to a folid terminated by fix equal 
fquares ; all this is nothing elfe but analyfing 
the figure of the object prefented to his fenfes 
into its fimpleft elements, and again compound- 
ing it of thole elements. 

By this analyfis and compofition, two effe&s 
are produced. Firjl, From the one complex 
object which his fenfes prefented, though one of 
the raoft fimple the fenfes can prefent, he educes 
many fimple and diHinct notions of right lines, 
angles, plain furface, folid, equality, parallelifm ; 
potions which the child has not yet faculties to 



attain. Secondly, When he considers the cube 
as compounded of thefe elements, put together 
in a certain order, he has then, and not before, 
a diftincl: and fcientific notion of a cube. The 
child neither conceives thofe elements, nor in 
what order they muft be put together, in order 
to make a cube ; and therefore has no accurate 
notion of a cube, which can make it a fubjecl 
of reafoning. 

Whence I think we may conclude, that the 
notion which we have from the fenfes alone, 
even of the fimpleft objects of fenfe, is indistinct 
and incapable of being either defcribed or rea~ 
foned upon, until it is analyfed into its iimple 
elements, and confidered as compounded of thofe 

If we ihould apply this reafoning to more 
complex objects of fenfe, the concluiion would 
be (till more evident. A dog may be taught to 
turn a jack, but he can never be taught to have 
a diftincl notion of a jack. He fees every part 
as well as a man ; but the relation of the parts 
to one another, and to the whole, he has not 
judgment to comprehend. 

A diftincl: notion of an object, even of fenfe, 
is never got in an inftant ; but the fenfe per- 
forms its office in an inftant. Time is not re- 
quired to fee it better, but to analyfe it, to di- 
itiiigufh the different parts, and their relation to 
one another, and to the whole. 


222 £SSAY VI. [CHAP. I. 

Hence it is, that when any vehement paifion 
or emotion hinders the cool application of judg- 
ment, we get no diftincl: notion of an object, 
even though the fenfe be long directed to it. 
A man who is put into a panic, by thinking he 
fees a ghoft, may ftare at it long, without having 
any diftincl: notion of it ; it is his underftand- 
ing, and not his fenfe that is difturbed by his 
horror. If he can lay that afide, judgment im- 
mediately enters upon its office, and examines 
the length and breadth, the colour, and figure, 
and diftance of the object. Of thefe, while his 
panic lailed, her had no diftincl: notion, though 
his eyes were open all the time, 

When the eye of fenfe is open, but that of 
judgment fhut by a panic, or any violent emo- 
tion that engrofies the mind, we fee things con- 
fufedly, and probably much in the fame man- 
ner that brutes and perfect idiots do, and infants 
before the ufe of judgment. 

There are therefore notions of the objects of 
fenfe which are grofs and indiftinct ; and there are 
others that are diftincl; and fcientific. The for- 
mer may be got from the fenfes alone ; but the 
latter cannot be obtained without fome degree 
of judgment. 

The clear and accurate notions which geometry 
prefents to us of a point, a right line, an angle, 
a fquare, a circle, of ratios direct and inverfe, and 
others of that kind, can find no admittance into 



a mind that has not fome degree of judgment. 
They are not properly ideas of the fenfes, nor 
are they got by compounding ideas of the fen- 
fes ; but, by analyfing the ideas or notions we 
get by the fenfes into their iimpleft elements, 
and again combining thefe elements into vari- 
ous, accurate, and elegant forms, which the fen- 
fes never did nor can exhibit. 

Had Mr Hume attended duly to this, it ought 
to have prevented a very bold attempt, which 
he has profecuted through fourteen pages of his- 
Treatife of Human Nature, to prove that geo- 
metry is founded upon ideas that are not exact, 
and axioms that are not precifely true. 

A Mathematician might be tempted to think* 
that the man who ferioufly undertakes this has 
no great acquaintance with geometry ; but I 
apprehend it is to be imputed to another caufe, 
to a zeal for his own fyftem. We fee that even 
men of genius may be drawn into ftrange para- 
doxes, by an attachment to a favourite idol of 
the underftanding, when it demands fo coftly a 

We Proteftants think, that the devotees of the 
Roman Church pay no fmaU tribute to her au- 
thority, when they renounce their five fenfes in 
obedience to her decrees. Mr Hume's devotion 
to his fyftem carries him even to trample upon 
mathematical demonftration. 


224 ESSAY VI. [CHAP. I. 

The fundamental articles of his fyftem are, 
that all the perceptions of the human mind are 
either impreffions or ideas ; and that ideas are 
only faint copies of impreffions. The idea of a 
right line, therefore, is only a faint copy of 
fome line that has been feen, or felt by touch ; 
and the faint copy cannot be more perfect than 
the original. Now of fuch right lines, it is evi- 
dent, that the anxioms of geometry are not pre- 
cifely true ; for two lines that are ftraight to our 
fight or touch may include a fpace, or they may 
meet in more points than one. If therefore we 
cannot form any notion of a ftraight line more 
accurate than that which we have from the fenfes 
of fight and touch, geometry has no folid foun- 
dation. If, on the other hand, the geometrical 
axioms are precifely true, the idea of a right line 
is not copied from any impreffion of fight or 
touch, but muft have a different origin, and a 
more perfect ftandard. 

As the Geometrician, by reflecting only upon 
the extenfion and figure of matter, forms a fet of 
notions more accurate and fcientific than any 
which the fenfes exhibit ; fo the natural Philo- 
fopher, reflecting ttpon other attributes of mat- 
ter, forms another fet, fuch as thofe of denfity, 
quantity of matter, velocity, momentum, fluidi- 
ty, elaiticity, centres of gravity, and of ofcillation. 
Thefe notions are accurate and fcientific ; but 
they cannot enter into a mind that has not fome 



degree of judgment, nor can we ma^ke them in- 
telligible to children, until they have fome ripe- 
nefs of underftanding. 

In navigation, the notions of latitude, longi- 
tude, courfe, leeway, cannot be made intelli- 
gible to children ; and fo it is with regard to the 
terms of every fcience, and of every art about 
which we can reafon. They have had their five 
fenfes as perfect as men, for years before they are 
capable of diftinguifhing, comparing, and per- 
ceiving the relations of things, fo as to be able 
to form fuch notions. They acquire the intel- 
lectual powers by a flow progrefs, and by im- 
perceptible degrees, and by means of them learn 
to form diftinct and accurate notions of things, 
which the fenfes could never have imparted. 

Having faid fo much of the notions we get 
from the fenfes alone of the objects of fenfe, let 
us next confider what notions we can have from 
confcioumefs alone of the operations of our minds. 

Mr Locke very properly calls confcioumefs an 
internal fenfe. It gives the like immediate 
knowledge of things in the mind, that is, of our 
own thoughts and feelings, as the fenfes give us 
of things external. There is this difference, 
however, that an external object may be at reft, 
and the fenfe may be employed about it for fome 
time. But the objects of confcioumefs are never 
at reft ; the ftream of thought flows like a river, 
without flopping a moment ; the whole train of 

Vol. II. P thought 

1l6 ESSAY VI. [CHAP. I. 

thought pafles in fucceffion under the eye of con- 
fcioufnefs, which is always employed about the 
prefent. But is it confcioufnefs that analyfes 
complex operations, diftinguifhes their different 
ingredients, and combines them in diftinct par- 
cels under general names ? This furely is not the 
work of confcioufnefs, nor can it be performed 
without reflection, recollecting and judging of 
what we were confcious of, and diftinctly re- 
member. This reflection does not appear in 
children. Of all the powers of the mind, it feems, 
to be of the lateft growth, whereas confcioufnefs 
is coeval with the earlieft. 

Confcioufnefs, being a kind of internal fenfe, 
can no more give us diftinct and accurate notions 
of the operations of our minds, than the external 
fenfes can give of external objects. Reflection 
upon the operations of our minds is the fame 
kind of operation with that by which we form 
diftinct notions of external obje&s. They dif- 
fer not in their nature, but in this only, that one 
is employed about external, and the other about 
internal objects ; and both may, with equal pro- 
priety, be called reflection. 

Mr Locke has reftricted the word reflection 
to that which is employed about the operations, 
of our minds, without any authority, as I think, 
from cuftom, the arbiter of language : For fure- 
ly I may reflect upon what I have feen or heard, 
as well as upon what I have thought. The word, 



in its proper and common meaning, is equally 
applicable to objects of fenfe, and to objects of 
confcioufnefs. He has likewife confounded re- 
flection with confcioufnefs, and feems not to 
have been aware that they are different powers, 
and appear at very different periods of life. 

If that eminent Philofopher had been aware of 
thefe miftakes about the meaning of the word 
reflection, he would, I think, have feen, that as 
jt is by reflection upon the operations of our 
own minds that we can form any diflincr. and 
accurate notions of them, and not by confciouf- 
nefs without reflection ; fo it is by reflection up- 
on the objects of fenfe, and not by the fenfes 
without reflection, that we can form diftinct no- 
tions of them. Reflection upon any thing, whe- 
ther external or internal, makes it an object of 
our intellectual powers, by which we furvey it 
on all fides, and form fuch judgments about it 
as appear to be juft and true. 

I propofed, in the third place, to coniider our 
notions of the relations of things : And here I 
think, that, without judgment, we cannot have 
any notion of relations. 

There are two ways in which we get the no- 
tion of relations. The firft is, by comparing 
the related objects, when we have before had the 
conception of both. By this comp .rifon, we 
perceive the relation, either immediately, or by 
a procefs of reafoning. That my foot is longer 
P 2 than 

228 ISSAY VI. [CHAP. I. 

than my finger, 1 perceive immediately ; and 
that three is the half of fix. This immediate 
perception is immediate and intuitive judgment. 
That the angles at the bafe of an ifofceles tri- 
angle are equal, I perceive by a procefs of rea- 
foning, in which it will be acknowledged there 
is judgment. 

Another way in which we get the notion of 
relations (which feems not to have occurred to 
Mr Locke) is, when, by attention to one of the 
related objects, we perceive or judge, that it 
rauft, from its nature, have a certain relation to 
fomething elfe, which before perhaps we never 
thought of; and thus our attention to one of the 
related objects produces the notion of a corre- 
late, and of a certain relation between them. 

Thus, when I attend to colour, figure, weight, 
I cannot help judging thefe to be qualities which 
cannot exift without a fubjec"t ; that is, fome- 
thing which is coloured, figured, heavy. If I 
had not perceived fuch things to be qualities, I 
fhould never have had any notion of their fub- 
ject, or of their relation to it. 

By attending to the operations of thinking, 
memory, reafoning, we perceive or judge, that 
there mull be fomething which thinks, remem- 
bers, and reafons, which we call the mind. 
When we attend to any change that happens in 
Nature, judgment informs us, that there mull 
be a caufe of this change, which had power to 



produce it ; and thus we get the notions of 
caufe and effect, and of the relation between 
them. When we attend to body, we perceive 
that it cannot exift without fpace ; hence we 
get the notion of fpace, (which is neither an 
object of fenfe nor of confcioufnefs), and of the 
relation which bodies have to a certain portion 
of unlimited fpace, as their place. 

I apprehend, therefore, that all our notions of 
relations may more properly be afcribed to judg- 
ment as their fource and origin, than to any 
other power of the mind. We muft firft per- 
ceive relations by our judgment, before we can 
conceive them without judging of them ; as we 
muft firft perceive colours by light, before we 
can conceive them without feeing them. I think 
Mr Locke, when he comes to fpeak of the ideas 
of relations, does not fay that they are ideas of 
fenfation or reflection, but only that they termi- 
nate in and are concerned about ideas of fenfa- 
tion or reflection. 

The notions of unity and number are fo ab- 
Itract, that it is impoffible they mould enter 
into the mind until it has fome degree of judg- 
ment. We- fee with what difficulty, and how 
flowly, children learn to ufe, with underftanding, 
the names even of fmall numbers, and how they 
exult in this acquisition when they have attained 
it. Every number is conceived by the relation 
which it bears to unity, or to known combina- 
P :> tions 

2JO ji S S A Y VI. [chap. 2. 

lions of units \ and upon that account, as well 
as on account of its abftract. nature, all diilincl 
notions of it require fame degree of judgment. 

In its proper place, I fhali have occafion to 
fhow, that judgment is an ingredient in all de- 
terminations of tafte ; in ail moral determina- 
tions ; and in many of our paffions and affec- 
tions. So that this operation, after we come to 
have any exercife of judgment, mixes with moil 
of the operations of our minds, and, in analyfing 
them, cannot be overlooked without confuiion 
and error.- 

C H A P. II. 

Of Common Senfe. 

THE word fenfe, in common language, feems 
to have a different meaning from that 
which it has in the writings of Philofophers *, and 
thofe different meanings are apt to be confound- 
ed, and to occafion embarrafTment and error. 

Not to go back to ancient philofophy upon 
this point, modern Philofophers coniider fenfe 
as a power that has nothing to do with judg- 
ment. Senfe they confider as the power by which 
we receive certain ideas or impreffions from ob- 
je&s ; and judgment as the power by which we 

. compare 


compare thofe ideas, and perceive their neceflary 
agreements and difagreements. 

The external fenfes give us the idea of colour, 
rigure, found, and other qualities of body, primary 
or fecondary. Mr Locke gave the name of an 
internal fenfe to confcioufnefs, becaufe by it we 
have the ideas of thought, memory, reafoning, 
and other operations of our own minds, Dr 
Hutcheson of Glafgow, conceiving that we have 
fimple and original ideas which cannot be im- 
puted either to the external fenfes, or to confci-^ 
oufnefs, introduced other internal fenfes ; fuch 
as the fenfe of harmony, the fenfe of beauty, and 
the moral fenfe. Ancient Philofophers alfo fpake 
of internal fenfes, of which memory was ac- 
counted one. 

But all thefe fenfes, whether external or in- 
ternal, have been reprefented by Philofophers, 
as the means of furnifhing our minds with ideas, 
without including any kind of judgment. Dr 
Hutcheson defines a fenfe to be a determina- 
tion of the mind to receive any idea from the 
prefence of an object, independent on our will. 

" By this term (fenfe) Philofophers in general 
" have denominated thole faculties, in confe- 
c< quence of which we are liable to feelings re- 
" lative to ourfelves only, and from which they 
" have not pretended to draw any conclufions 
" concerning the nature of things ; whereas truth 

P 4 " is 

*3 2 ESSAY VI. [CHAP. 2. 

" is not relative, but abfolute and real." Dr 
Priestly's Exam, of Dr Reid, i$c. page 123. 

Qn the contrary, in common language, fenfe 
always implies judgment. A man of fenfe is a 
man of judgment. Good fenfe is good judgment. 
Nonfenfe is what is evidently contrary to right 
judgment. Common fenfe is that degree of 
judgment which is common to men with whom 
we can converfe and tranfacl: bufinefs. 

Seeing and hearing by Philofophers are Called 
fenfes, becaufe we have ideas by them ; by the 
vulgar they are called fenfes, becaufe we judge 
by them. We judge of colours by the eye ; of 
founds by the ear ; of beauty and deformity by 
tafte ; of right and wrong in conduct, by our 
moral fenfe or confcience. 

Sometimes Philofophers, who reprefent it as 
the fole province of fenfe to furnifh us with 
ideas, fall unawares into the popular opinion, that 
they are judging faculties. Thus Locke, book 4. 
chap. 1 1. " And of this, (that the quality or ac- 
" cident of colour doth really exift, and hath a 
" being without me), the greateft aflurance I 
" can poflibly have, and to which my faculties- 
" can attain, is the teftimony of my eyes, which 
" are the proper and fole judges of this thing." 

This popular meaning of the woid fenfe is not 
peculiar to the Englifh language. The corre- 
fponding words in Greek, Latin, and I believe 
in all the European languages, have the fame 



latitude. The Latin words /entire, fententia, fen/a, 
fenfuSy from the laft of which the Englifh word 
fenfe is borrowed, exprefs judgment or opinion, 
and are applied indifferently to obje&s of exter- 
nal fenfe, of talle, of morals, and of the under- 

I cannot pretend to affign the reafon why a 
word, which is no term of art, which is familiar 
in common converfation, mould have fo differ- 
ent a meaning in philofophical writings. I fhall 
only obferve, that the philofophical meaning 
correfponds perfectly with the account which 
Mr Locke and other modern Philofophers give 
of judgment. For if the fole province of the 
fenfes, external and internal, be to furnilh the 
mind with the ideas about which we judge and 
reafon, it feems to be a natural confequence, that 
the fole province of judgment mould be to com- 
pare thofe ideas, and to perceive their necefiary 

Thefe two opinions feem to be fo connected, 
that one may have been the caufe of the other. 
I apprehend, however, that if both be true, there 
is no room left for any knowledge or judgment, 
either of the real exiftence of contingent things., 
or of their contingent relations. 

To return to the popular meaning of the word 
fenfe. I believe it would be much more diffi<- 
cult to find good authors who never ule it in that 
meaning, than to find fuch as do. 


234 ESSAY VI. [CHAP. 2, 

We may take Mr Pope as good authority for 
the meaning of an Englifh word. He ufes it of- 
ten, and in his Epiftle to the Earl of Burling- 
ton, has made a little defcant upon it. 

" Oft have you hinted to your brother Peer, 
" A certain truth, which many buy too dear ; 
" Something there is more needful than expence, 
" And fomething previous ev'n to tafte, — 'tis fenfe. 
** Good fenfe, which only is the gift of Heaven ; 
" And though no fcience, fairly worth the feven ; 
*' A light, which in yourfelf you mult perceive, 
" Jones and Le Notre have it not to give." 

This inward light or fenfe is given by Heaven 
to different perfons in different degrees. There 
is a certain degree of it which is neceffary to 
our being fubje&s of law and government, ca- 
pable of managing our own affairs, and anfwer- 
able for our conduct towards others : This is 
called common fenfe, becaufe it is common to all 
men with whom we can tranfacl: bufinefs, or call 
to account for their conduct. 

The laws of all civilifed nations diftinguifli 
thofe who have this gift of Heaven from thofe 
who have it not. The laft may have rights which 
ought not to be violated, but having no under- 
Handing in themfelves to direct their actions^ 
the laws appoint them to be guided by the un- 
derftanding of others. It is eafily difcerned by 



its effects in mens actions, in their fpeeches, and 
even in their looks ; and when it is made a que- 
ftion, whether a man has this natural gift or not, 
a judge or a jury, upon a fhort converfation with 
him, can, for the moll part, determine the que- 
ftion with great affurance. 

The fame degree of underftanding which makes 
a man capable of acting with common prudence 
in the conduct of life, makes him capable of dif~ 
covering what is true and what is falfe in mat- 
ters that are ielf-evident, and which he diftincl> 
ly apprehends. 

All knowledge, and all fcience, muft be built 
upon principles that are felf-evident ; and of fuch 
principles, every man who has common fenfe is 
a competent judge, when he conceives them di« 
ftinctly. Hence it is, that difputes very often 
terminate in an appeal to common fenfe. 

While the parties agree in the firft principles 
on which their arguments are grounded, there is 
room for reafoning ; but when one denies what 
to the other appears too evident to need, or to 
admit of proof, reafoning feems to be at an end > 
an appeal is made to common fenfe, and each 
party is left to enjoy his own opinion. 

There feems to be no remedy for this, nor 
any way left to difcufs fuch appeals, unlefs the 
deciiions of common fenfe can be brought into 
a code, in which all reafonable men ill all ac- 
quiefce. This indeed, if it be poiSble, would be 


2$6 ESSAY VI. [CHAP. 2. 

very defirable, and would fupply a defideratum 
in logic ; and why fhould it be thought impof- 
fible that reafonable men mould agree in things 
that are felf-evident ? 

All that is intended in this chapter, is to ex- 
plain the meaning of common fenfe, that it may 
not be treated, as it has been by fome, as a new 
principle, or as a word without any meaning. 
I have endeavoured to Ihew, that fenfe, in its 
moil common, and therefore its mod proper 
meaning, iigniries judgment, though Philofo- 
phers often ufe it in another meaning. From 
this it is natural to think, that common fenfe 
mould mean common judgment ; and fo it really 

What the precife limits are which divide com- 
mon judgment from what is beyond it on the 
one hand, and from what falls fhort of it on the 
other, may be difficult to determine ; and men 
may agree in the meaning of the word who have 
different opinions about thofe limits, or who 
even never thought of fixing them. This is as 
intelligible as, that all Englifhmen fhould mean 
the fame thing by the county of York, though 
perhaps not a hundredth part of them can point 
out its precife limits. 

Indeed, it feems to me, that common fenfe is as- 
unambiguous a word, and as well underflood as 
the county ofTork. We find it in innumerable 
places in good writers *, we hear it on innumer- 


able oceafions in converfation ; and, as far as I 
am able to judge, always in the fame meaning. 
And this is probably the reafon why it is fo fel- 
dom defined or explained. 

Dr Johnson, in the authorities he gives, to 
ihew that the word fenfe ilgnifies underftanding, 
foundnefs of faculties, ftrength of natural reafon, 
quotes Dr Bentley for what may be called a 
definition of common fenfe, though probably 
not intended for that purpofe, but mentioned ac- 
cidentally : " God hath endowed mankind with 
" power and abilities, which we call natural 
" light and reafon, and common fenfe." 

It is true, that common fenfe is a popular, and 
not a fcholaftic word ; and by mod of thofe who 
have treated fyftematically of the powers of the 
underftanding, it is only occafionally mentioned, 
as it is by other writers. But I recollect two 
philofophical writers, who are exceptions to this 
remark. One is Buffier, who treated largely 
of common fenfe, as a principle of knowledge, 
above fifty years ago. The other is Bifhop 
Berkeley, who, I think, has laid as much ftrefs 
upon common fenfe, in oppofition to the doc- 
trines of Philofophers, as any Philofopher that 
has come after him. If the reader choofes to 
look back to Eflay II. chap. 10. he will be fatif- 
fied of this, from the quotations there made for 
another purpofe, which it is unneceflary here to 


1$% ESSAY V*. [CHAP. 2.- 

Men rarely alk what common fenfe is ; be- 
caufe every man believes himfelf poffeffed of it, 
and would take it for an imputation upon his 
underftanding to be thought unacquainted with 
it. Yet I remember two very eminent authors 
who have put this queftion ; and it is not impro- 
per to hear their fentiments upon a fubjecl fo 
frequently mentioned, and fo rarely canvafled. 

It is well known, that Lord Shaftesbury 
gave to one of his Treatifes the title of Sen/us 
Communis ; an EJfay on the Freedom of Wit and 
Humour, in a letter to a friend ; in which he puts 
his friend in mind of a free converfation with 
fome of their friends on the fubjecls of morality 
and religion. Amidft the different opinions 
ftarted and maintained with great life and inge- 
nuity, one or other would every now and then 
take the liberty to appeal to common fenfe. 
Every one allowed the appeal ; no one would 
offer to call the authority of the court in que- 
ftion, till a gentleman, whofe good understand- 
ing was never yet brought iri doubt, defired the 
company very gravely that they would tell him 
what common fenfe was. 

" If, faid he, by the word fenfe, we were to 
" underftand opinion and judgment, and by the 
" word common, the generality, or any confi- 
*' derable part of mankind, it would be hard " 
" to difcover where the fubjecl: of common fenfe 

" could 


** could lie ; for that which was according to 
" the fenfe of one part of mankind, was againit 
" the fenfe of another : And if the majority 
" were to determine common fenfe, it would 
" change as often as men changed. That in re- 
** ligion, common fenfe was as hard to determine 
" as catholic or orthodox. What to one was ab- 
" furdity, to another was demonftration. 

" In policy, if plain Britifh or Dutch fenfe 
" were right, Turkilh and French muil certain- 
" ly be wrong. And as mere nonfenfe, as paf- 
" five obedience feemed, we found it to be the 
** common fenfe of a great party amongfl our- 
u felves, a greater party in Europe, and perhaps 
" the greateft part of all the world befides. A3 
tl for morals, the difference was ftill wider ; for 
" even the Philofophers could never agree in 
" one and the fame fyftem. And fome even of 
** our moil admired modern Philofophers had 
" fairly told us, that virtue and vice had no 
" other law or meafure than mere fafhion and 
" vogue." 

This is the fubftance of the gentleman's 
fpeech, which, I apprehend, explains the mean- 
ing of the word perfectly, and contains all that 
has been faid, or can be laid againft the autho- 
rity of common {tnfe^ and the propriety of ap- 
peals to it. 

As there is no mention of any anfwer imme- 
diately made to this ipeech, we might be apt to 


$40 essay vr. [CHAP. 2. 

conclude, that the noble author adopted the 
fentiments of the intelligent gentleman, whofe 
fpeech he recites. But the contrary is manifeft, 
from the title of Serufus Communis given to his 
Effay, from his frequent ufe of the word, and 
from the whole tenor of the Effay. 

The author appears to have a double inten- 
sion in that Effay, correfponding to the double 
title prefixed to it. One intention is, to jultify 
the ufe of wit, humour, and ridicule, iri difcuf- 
ling among friends the graveft fubje&s. " I can 
<« very well fuppofe, fays he, men may be fright- 
" ed out of their wits ; but I have no apprehen- 
" fion they mould be laughed out of them. I 
" can hardly imagine, that, in a pleafant way, 
" they mould ever be talked out of their love 
" for fociety, or reafoned out of humanity and 
" common fenfe." 

The other intention, fignified by the title 
Senfus Communis, is carried on hand in hand with 
the firft, and is to fhew, that common fenfe is 
not fo vague and uncertain a thing as it is re- 
prefented to be in the fceptical fpeech before re- 
cited. " I will try," fays he, " what certain 
" knowledge or affurance of things may be re- 
" covered in that very way, (to wit, of humour), 
« by which all certainty, you thought, was loft, 
" and an endlefs fcepticifm introduced." 

He gives fome criticifms upon the word f€tifus 
communis in Juvenal, Horace, and Seneca; 



and after fhewing, in a facetious way through- 
out the Treatife, that the fundamental principles 
of morals, of politics, of criticifm, and of every 
branch of knowledge, are the dictates of com- 
mon fenfe, he fums up the whole in thefe words : 
" That fome moral and philofophicai truths 
" there are fo evident in themfelves, that it 
" would be eafier to imagine half mankind run 
" mad, and joined precifely in the fame fpecies 
" of folly, than to admit any thing as truth, 
" which mould be advanced againft fucli natu- 
" ral knowledge, fundamental reafon, and com- 
" mon fenfe." And, on taking leave, he adds : 
" And now, my friend, fhould you find I had 
" moralifed in any tolerable manner, according 
" to common fenfe, and without canting, I mould 
" be fatisfied with my performance." 

Another eminent writer who has put the que- 
ilion what common fenfe is, is Fenslon, the fa- 
mous Archbifhop of Cambray. 

That ingenious and pious author, having had 
an early prepofTeflion in favour of the Cartefian 
philofophy, made an attempt to eftablifh, on a 
Aire foundation, the metaphyfical arguments 
which Des Cartes had invented to prove the 
being of the Deity. For this purpofe, he begins 
with the Cartefian doubt. He proceeds to find 
out the truth of his own exiftence, and then to 
examine wherein the evidence and certainty of 
this and other fuch primary truths confiited. 

Vol. IT. Q This, 

242 ESSAY VI. [CHAP. 2. 

This, according to Cartefian principles, he places 
in the clearnefs and diftinclnefs of the ideas. On 
the contrary, he places the absurdity of the con- 
trary propositions, in their being repugnant to 
his clear and diftinct ideas. 

To illuftrate this, he gives various examples 
of queftions manifeftly abfurd and ridiculous, 
which every man of common understanding 
would at firft fight perceive to be fo, and then 
goes on to this purpofe. 

" What is it that makes thefe queftions ridi- 
" culous ? Wherein does this ridicule precifely 
" confift ? It will perhaps be replied, that it 
" conn ft s in this, that they fhock common fenfe. 
" But what is this fame common fenfe ? It is not 
" the firft notions that all men have equally of 
" the fame things. This common fenfe, which 
" is always and in all places the fame ; which 
" prevents hfquiry; which makes inquiry in 
" fome cafes ridiculous ; which, inftead of in- 
*' quiring, makes a man laugh whether he will 
" or not ; which puts it out of a man's power to 
" doubt \ this fenfe, which only waits to be con- 
" fulted ; which fhows itfelf at the firft glance, 
" and immediately difcovers the evidence or the 
" abfurdity of a queftion ; is not this the fame 
" that I call my ideas ? 

" Behold then thofe ideas or general notions-,. 
" which it is not in my power either to contra- 
" did or examine, and by which I examine and 

" decide 


h decide in every cafe, infomuch that I laugh 
" inftead of anfwering, as often as any thing is 
" propofed to me, which is evidently contrary to 
" what thefe immutable ideas reprefent." 

I fhall only obferve upon this pafTage, that the 
interpretation it gives of Des Cartes criterion 
of truth, whether juft or not, is the moll intel- 
ligible and the moil favourable I have met with. 
I beg leave to mention one pafTage from Ci- 
cero, and to add two or three from late writers, 
which mow that this word is not become obfo- 
lete, nor has changed its meaning. 

De Oratore, lib. 3. " Omnes enim tacito quo- 
" dam fenfu, fine ulla arte aut ratione, in arti- 
'* bus ac rationibus, recta ac prava dijudicant. 
" Idque cum faciant in picturis, et in lignis, et 
" in aliis operibus, ad quorum intelligentiam a 
" natura minus habent inftrumenti, turn multo 
" oilendunt magis in verborum, numerorum, vo- 
" cumque judicio ; quod ea lint in communibus 
" infixa fenfibus ; neque earum rerunl quem- 
" quam funditus natura voluit expertem." 

Hume's Effays and Treatifes, vol. 1. p. 5. 
" But a Philbfopher who propofes only to repre- 
4< lent the common fenfe of mankind in more 
" beautiful and more engaging colours, if by ac- 
" cident he commits a miftake, goes no further, 
" but renewing his appeal to common fenfe, and 
u the natural fentiments of the mind, returns in- 
Qji " to 

^44 ESSAY VI. [ckAf. ii 

" to the right path, and fecures himfelf from 
" any dangerous illufion." 

Hume's Enquiry concerning the Principles of 
Morals, p. 2. " Thofe who have refufed the rea- 
" lity of moral diftinctions may be ranked 
" among the difingenuoiis difputants. The only 
" way of converting an antagonift of this kind 
" is to leave him to himfelf : For, finding that 
*'■ nobody keeps up the controverfy with him, 
" 'tis probable he will at laft, of himfelf, from 
" mere wearinefs, come over to the fide of com- 
" mon fenfe and reafon." 

Priestly's Inflitutes, Prelim. Eflay, vol. 1. 
p. 27. " Becaufe common fenfe is a fufficient 
" guard againll many errors in religion, it feems 
" to have been taken for granted, that that com- 
" mon fenfe is a fufficient inftructor alfo, where- 
" as in fa6t, without pofitive inftruclion, meri 
*' would naturally have been mere favages with 
" refpecl to religion ; as, without iimilar in- 
" ftrucl;ion, they would be favages with refpect 
" to the arts of life and the fciences. Common 
" fenfe can only be compared to a judge ; but 
" what can a judge do without evidence and 
" proper materials from which to form a judg- 
" ment?" 

Priestly's Examination of Br Reid, &c. 
page 127. " But mould we, out of complaif- 
" ance, admit that what has hitherto been called 
" judgment may be called {enk, it is making too 

" free 



♦' free with the eftablifhed fignification of words 
** to call it common fenfe, which, in common 
" acceptation, has long been appropriated to a 
" very different thing, viz. To that capacity for 
" judging of common things that perfons of 
" middling capacities are capable of." Page 129. 
" I fhould therefore expedf , that if a man was fo 
w totally deprived of common fenfe as not to be 
*' able to diftinguifh truth from falfehood in one 
*' cafe, he would be equally incapable of di- 
" flinguiming it in another." 

From this cloud of teftimonies, to which 
hundreds might be added, I apprehend, that 
whatever cenfure is thrown upon thofe who have 
fpoke of common fenfe as a principle of know- 
ledge, or who have appealed to it in matters that 
are felf- evident, will fall light, when there are fo 
many to fhare in it. Indeed, the authority of 
this tribunal is too facred and venerable, and has 
prescription too long in its favour to be now 
wifely called in queftion. Thofe who are dif- 
pofed to do fo, may remember the fhrewd fay- 
ing of Mr Hobbes, " When reafon is againft a 
" man, a man will be againft reafon." This is 
equally applicable to common fenfe. 

From the account I have given of the mean- 
ing of this term, it is eafy to judge both of the 
proper ufe and of the abufe of it. 

It is abfurd to conceive that there can be any 
pppolition between reafon and common fenfe. 

<^3 ft 

246 ESSAY VI. [CHAP. 2. 

It is indeed the firft-born of reafon, and as they 
are commonly joined together in fpeech and in 
writing, they are infep arable in their nature. 

We aferibe to reafon two offices, or two de- . 
grees. The fir ft is to judge of things felf-evi- 
dent ; the fecond to draw conclusions that are 
not felf-evident from thofe that are. The firit 
of thefe is the province, and the fole province of 
common fenfe ; and therefore it coincides with 
reafon in its whole extent, and is only another 
name for one branch or one degree of reafon. 
Perhaps it may be faid, Why then mould you 
give it a particular name, fince it is acknow- 
ledged to be only a degree of reafon ? It would 
be a fufficient anfwer to this, Why do you abo- 
lifh a name which is to be found in the language 
of all civilized nations, and has acquired a right 
by prefcription ? Such an attempt is equally 
foolifh and ineffectual. Every wife man will be 
apt to think, that a name which is found in, all 
languages as far back as we can trace them, is 
not without fome ufe. 

But there is an obvious reafon why this de- 
gree of reafon ihouid have a name appropriated 
to it; and that is, that in the greateft part of 
mankind no other degree of reafon is to be found. 
It is this degree that entitles them to the deno- 
mination of reafonable creatures. It is this de- 
gree of reafon, and this only, that makes a man 
capable of managing his own affairs, and anfwer- 



able for his conduct towards others. There is 
therefore the belt reafon why it fliould have a 
name appropriated to it. 

Thefe two degrees of reafon differ in other 
refpects, which would be fufficient to entitle 
them to diftincl: names. 

The firft is purely the gift of Heaven. And 
where Heaven has not given it, no education can 
fupply the want. The fecond is learned by 
practice and rules, when the firft is not wanting. 
A man who has common fenfe may be taught 
to reafon. But if he has not that gift, no teach- 
ing will make him able either to judge of firft 
principles or to reafon from them. 

I have only this further to obferve, that the 
province of common fenfe is more exteniive in 
refutation than in confirmation. A conclufion 
drawn by a train of juft reafoning from true 
principles cannot poffibly contradict: any deci- 
fion of common fenfe, becaufe truth will always 
be confiftent with itfelf. Neither can fuch a 
concluficn receive any confirmation from com- 
mon fenfe, becaufe it is not within its jurifdic- 

But it is poffible, that, by fetting out from 
falfe principles, or by an error in reafoning, a 
man may be led to a conclufion that contradicts 
the decifions of common fenfe. In this cafe, the 
conclufion is within the jurifdiction of common 
fenfe, though the reafoning on which it. was 
Q^4 grounded 

248 ESSAY VI. [CHAP. 1. 

grounded be not ; and a man of common fenfe 
may fairly reject the conclufion, without being 
able to lhew the error of the reafoning that led 
to it. 

Thus, if a Mathematician, by a procefs of in- 
tricate demonftratien, in which fome falfe iiep 
was made, iliould be brought to this conclufion, 
that two quantities, which are both equal to a 
third, are not equal to each other, a man of com- 
mon fenfe, without pretending to be a judge of 
the demonftration, is well entitled to rejecl the 
conclufion, and to pronounce it abfurd. 

G H A P. III. 

Sentiments of Philofophers concerning Judgment* 

DIFFERENCE about the meaning of a 
word ought not to occafion difputes among 
Philofophers : But it is often very proper to take 
notice of fuch differences, in orp'er to prevent 
verbal difputes. There are, indeed, no words 
in language more liable to ambiguity than thole 
by which we exprefs the operations of the mind ; 
and the moil candid and judicious may fome- 
times be led into different opinions about their 
precife meaning. 

I hinted before what I take to be a peculiari- 
ty in Mr Locke with regard to the meaning of 



the word judgment, and mentioned what I ap- 
prehend may have led him into it. But let us 
hear himfelf; EfTay, book 4. chap. 14, " The 
" faculty which God has given to man to fup- 
" ply the want of clear and certain knowledge, 
" where that cannot be had, is judgment ; 
" whereby the mind takes its ideas to agree or 
" difagree ; or, which is the fame, any propofi- 
" tion to be true or falfe, without perceiving a 
" demonftrative evidence in the proofs. Thus 
i* the mind has two faculties, converfant about 
" truth and falfehood. Fir/}, Knowledge, where - 
" by it certainly perceives, and is undoubtedly 
" fatisfied of the agreement or difagreement of 
" any ideas. Secondly, Judgment, which is the 
M putting ideas together, or feparating them 
" from one another in the mind, when their cer- 
i* tain agreement or difagreement is not per- 
\ l ceived, but prefumed to be fo." 

Knowledge, I think, fometimes fignifies things 
known ; fometimes that acl: of the mind by 
which we know them. And in like manner 
opinion fometimes fignifies things believed ; 
fometimes the a£t of the mind by which we be- 
lieve them. But judgment is the faculty which 
is exercifed in both thefe adls of the mind. In 
knowledge, we judge without doubting; in opi- 
nion, with fome mixture of doubt. But I know 
no authority, belid^s that pf Mr Locke, for 


2.5© £ S S A Y VI. [CHAP. 3. 

calling knowledge a faculty, any more than for 
calling opinion a faculty. 

Neither do I think that knowledge is confined 
within the narrow limits which Mr Locke af- 
ligns to it ; becaufe the far greateft part of what 
all mea call human knowledge, is in things 
which neither admit of intuitive nor of demon- 
strative proof. 

I have all along ufed the word judgment in a 
more extended fenfe than Mr Locke does in the 
paflage above mentioned. I underftand by it 
that operation of mind, by which we determine, 
concerning any thing that may be expreffed by 
a propoiition, whether it be true or falfe. Every 
propoiition is either true or falfe ; fo is every 
judgment. A proportion may be fimply con- 
ceived without judging of it. But when there 
is not only a conception of the propoiition, but 
a mental affirmation or negation, an affent or dif- 
fent of the understanding, whether weak or 
ftrong, that is judgment. 

I think, that fince the days of Aristotle, 
Logicians have taken the word in this fenfe, and 
other writers, for the mod part, though there 
are other meanings, which there is no danger of 
confounding with this. 

We may take the authority of Dr Isaac 
Watts, as a Logician, as a man who underftood 
Engliih, and who had a juft efteem of Mr 
Locke's Eflay. Logic. Introd. page 5. " Judg- 

" ment 


" ment is tjiat operation of the mind, wherein 
" we join two or more ideas together by one af- 
" firmation or negation ; that is, we either af- 
" firm or deny this to be that. So this tree is 
" high ; that horfe is notfwift; the mind of man 
'* is a thinking being; mere matter has nojfcfiught 
11 belonging to it ; God is jujt ; 'good-men are-gf- 
•" ten miferable in this world ; a righteous gover- 
" nor will make a difference betwixt the evil and 
" the good ; which fentences are the effect of 
" judgment, and are called propositions." And 
part 2. chap. 2. feci. 9. " The evidence of fenfe 
■ i is, when we frame a propofition according to 
( * the dictate of any of our fenfes. So we judge, 
*' that grafs is green ; that a trumpet gives a 
-' pie af ant found ; that fire burns wood; water is 
" Softi an d i ron hardy 

In this meaning, judgment extends to every 
kind of evidence, probable or certain, and to 
every degree of affent or diffent. It extends to 
all knowledge as well as to all opinion ; with 
this difference only, that in knowledge it is more 
firm and Heady, like a houfe founded upon a 
rock. In opinion it ftands upon a weaker foun- 
dation, and is more liable to be fhaken and over- 

Thefe differences about the meaning of words 
are not mentioned as if truth was on one fide, 
and error on the other, but as an apology for de- 
viating in this inftance from the phraieology of 


252 ESSAY VI. [CHAP. 3, 

Mr Locke, which is for the moft part accurate 
and diftinct ; and becaufe attention to the dif- 
ferent meanings that are put upon words by dif- 
ferent authors is the beft way to prevent our 
miftaking verbal differences for real differences 
of opinion. 

The common theory concerning ideas natural- 
ly leads to a theory concerning judgment, which 
may be a proper ted of its, truth ; for as they 
are neceifarily conne&ed, they muft ftand or fall 
together : Their connection is thus expreffed by 
Mr Locke, book 4. chap. 1. « Since the mind, 
" in all its thoughts and reafonings, hath no 
*S other immediate object but its own ideas, 
" which it alone does, or can contemplate, it is 
iC evident that our knowledge is only converfant 
** about them. Knowledge then feems to me 
* ( to be nothing but the perception of the connec- 
44 tion and agreement, or dif agreement and re- 
** pugnancy of any of our ideas. In this alone it 
4k conjifls."- 

There can only be one objection to the juftioe 
of this inference ; and that is, that the ante- 
cedent propofition from which it is inferred, 
feems to have fome ambiguity : For, in the firft 
claufe of that propofition, the mind is faid to 
have no other immediate object but its own ideas ; 
in the fecond, that it has no other object at al) ; 
that it does or can contemplate ideas alone. 


If the word immediate in the firft claufe be a 
mere expletive, and be not intended to limit the 
generality of the propofition, then the two claufes 
will be perfectly confiftent, the fecond being on* 
ly a repetition or explication of the firft ; and 
the inference that our knowledge is only con- 
verfant about ideas, will be perfectly juft and 

But if the word immediate in the firft claufe 
be intended to limit the general propofition, and 
to imply, that the mind has other objects befides 
its own ideas, though no other immediate ob- 
jects ; then it will not be true that it does or can 
contemplate ideas alone ; nor will the inference 
be juftly drawn, that our knowledge is only con* 
verfant about ideas. 

Mr Locke mud either have meant his ante* 
cedent propofition, without any limitation by 
the w r ord immediate, or he mult have meant to 
limit it by that word, and to fignify that there 
Are objects of the mind which are not ideas. 

The firft of thefe fuppofitioris appears to me 
moft probable, for feveral reafons. 

Firft, Becaufe, when he purpofely defines the 
word idea, in the introduction to the Effky, he 
fays it is whatfoever is the object of the under- 
ftanding when a man thinks ; or whatever the 
mind can be employed about in thinking. Here 
there is no room left for objects of the mind 
that are not ideas. The fame definition is often 


254 ESSAY VI. [chap. 3c 

repeated throughout the EfTay. Sometimes, in- 
indeed, the word immediate is added, as in the 
palTage now under confideration ; but there is 
no intimation made that it ought to be under- 
ftood when it is not exprefTed. Now if it had 
really been his opinion, that there are objects of 
thought which are not ideas, this definition, 
which is the ground work of ^the whole EfTay, 
would have been very improper, and apt to mif- 
lead his reader. 

Secondly, He has never attempted to fhow how 
there can be objects of thought, which are not 
immediate objects ; and indeed this feems im- 
pofiible. For whatever the object be, the man 
either thinks of it, or he does not. There is no 
medium between thefe. If he thinks of it, it is 
an immediate object of thought while he thinks 
of it. If he does not think of it, it is no object 
of thought at all. Every object of thought, 
therefore, is an immediate object of thought, 
and the word immediate ', joined to objects of 
thought, feems to be a mere expletive. 

Thirdly, Though Malebranche and Bifhop 
Berkeley believed, that we have no ideas of 
minds, or of the operations of minds, and that 
we may think and reafon about them without 
ideas, this was not the opinion of Mr Locke. 
He thought that there are ideas of minds, and 
of their operations, as well as of the objects ol 
fenfe ; that the mind perceives nothing but its 



own ideas, and that all words are the iigns of 

A fourth reafon is, That to fuppofe that he in- 
tended to limit the antecedent propofition by the 
word immediate, is to impute to him a blunder in 
reafoning, which I do not think Mr Locke could 
have committed ; for what can be a more gla- 
ring paralogifm than to infer, that lince ideas 
are partly, though not folely, the objects of 
thought, it is evident that all our knowledge is 
only converfant about them. If, on the con- 
trary, he meant that ideas are the only objeds 
of thought, then ithe conclufion drawn is per- 
fectly juft and obvious ; and he might very well 
fay, that fine e it is ideas only that the mind does 
or can contemplate, it is evident that our know- 
ledge is only converfant about them. 

As to the conclufion itielf, I have only to ob- 

. ferve, that though he extends it only to what 

he calls knowledge, and not to what he calls 

judgment, there is the fame reafon for extending 

it to both. 

It is true of judgment, as well as of know- 
ledge, that it can only be converfant about 
objects of the mind, or about things which 
the mind can contemplate. Judgment, as well 
as knowledge, fuppofes the conception of the 
object about which we judge ; and to judge of 
objects that never were nor can be objects of 
the mind, is evidently iiiipoflible. 


256 ESSAY VI. [CHAP. $, 

This therefore we may take for granted, that 
if knowledge be converfant about ideas only, be- 
caufe there is no other objed of the mind, it 
mult be no lefs certain, that judgment is con- 
verfant about ideas only, for the fame reafon. 

Mr Locke adds, as the refult of his reafoningj 
Knowledge then feems to me to be nothing but 
the perception of the connection and agreement, 
or difagreement and repugnancy* of any of our 
ideas. In this alone it confifts. 

This is a very important point; not only on its' 
own account, but on account of its neceflary 
connection with his 'fyftem concerning ideas, 
which is fuch, as that both mufl Hand or fall to- 
gether ; for if there is any part of human know- 
ledge which does not conlift in the perception of 
the agreement or difagreement of ideas, it mull 
follow, that there are objects of thought and of 
contemplation which are not ideas. 

This point, therefore, deferves to be carefully 
examined. With this view, let us firft attend 
to its meaning, which I think can hardly be 
miftaken, though it. may need fome explication. 

Every point of knowledge, and every judg- 
ment, is expreffed by a proportion, wherein 
fomething is affirmed or denied of the fubjed of 
the propofition. 

By perceiving the conned ion or agreement of 
two ideas, I conceive is meant perceiving the 
■ruth of an affirmative propofition, of which the 



fubjecl and predicate are ideas. In like manner, 
by perceiving the difagreement and repugnancy 
of any two ideas, I conceive is meant perceiving 
the truth of a negative propofition, of which both 
fubject and predicate are ideas. This I take to 
be the only meaning the words can bear, and it 
is confirmed by what Mr Locke fays in a paf- 
fage already quoted in this chapter, that " the 
" mind, taking its ideas to agree or difagree, is 
" the fame as taking any propofition to be true 
" or falfe." Therefore, if the definition of 
knowledge given by Mr Locke be a juft one, the 
fubject, as well as the predicate of every propofi- 
tion, by which any point of knowledge is expref- 
fed, muft be an idea, and can be nothing elfe ; and 
the fame muft hold of every propofition by which 
judgment is exprefted, as has been mown above. 

Having afcertained the meaning of this defini- 
tion of human knowledge, we are next to confi- 
iler how far it is juft. 

Firjl, I would obferve, that if the word idea be 
taken in the meaning which it had at firft among 
the Pythagoreans and Platonifts, and if by know- 
ledge be meant only abftradt and general know- 
ledge, (which I believe Mr Locke had chiefly in 
ins view), I think the propofition is true, that fuch 
knowledge confifts folely in perceiving the truth of 
propofitions whofe fubje£t and predicate are ideas. 

By ideas here I mean things conceived ab- 
ilractly, without regard to their exiftence : We 

Vol. II. R commonly 

258 ESSAY VI. [CHAP. 3. 

commonly call them abftract notions, abftracT: con- 
ceptions, abftract. ideas ; the Peripatetics called 
them univerfals ; and the Platonifts, who knew no 
other ideas, called them ideas without addition. 

Such ideas are both fubject and predicate in 
every propolition which exprefles abftract. know- 

The whole body of pure mathematics is an ab- 
ftracT: fcience ; and in every mathematical pro- 
polition, both fubjecl: and predicate are ideas, in 
the fenfe above explained. Thus, when I fay 
the fide of a fquare is not commenfurable to its 
diagonal : In this propolition the Jide and the dia- 
gonal of a fquare are the fubjects, (for being a 
relative propolition it rauft have two fubjecls). 
A fquare, its iide, and its diagonal, are ideas or 
univerfals ; they are not individuals, but things 
predicable of many individuals. Existence is not 
included in their definition, nor in the concep- 
tion we form of them. The predicate of the 
propolition is com?nenfurable, which mult be an 
univerfal, as the predicate of every propolition is 
fo. In other branches of knowledge many ab- 
ftract. truths may be found, but, for the moil 
part, mixed with others that are not abftract. 

I add, that I apprehend that what is ftridtly 
called demonltrative evidence, is to be found 
in abftract. knowledge only. . This was the opi- 
nion of Aristotle, of Plato, and I think of all 
the ancient Philofophers^ and I believe in this 



they judged right. It is true, we often meet 
with demonftration in aftronomy, in mechanics, 
and in other branches of natural philofophy ; 
but I believe we mail always find that fuch de- 
monftrations are grounded upon principles or 
fuppoiitions, which have neither intuitive nor 
demonftrative evidence. 

Thus when we demonstrate, that the path of 
a projectile in vacuo is a parabola, we fuppofe 
that it is acted upon with the fame force, and 
in the fame direction through its whole path by 
gravity. This is not intuitively known, nor is it 
demonftrable : And in the demonftration, we 
reafon from the laws of motion, which are prin- 
ciples not capable of demonftration, but ground- 
ed on a different kind of evidence. 

Ideas, in the fenfe above explained, are crea- 
tures of the mind ; they are fabricated by its 
rational powers ; we .know their nature and 
their offence ; for they are nothing more than 
they are conceived to be : And becaufe they are 
perfectly known, we can reafon about them with 
the higheft degaee of evidence. 

And as they are not things that exift, but 
things conceived, they neither have place nor 
time, nor are they liable to change. 

When we fay that they are in the mind, this 

can mean no more but that they are conceived 

by the mind, or that they are objects of thought. 

The ad of conceiving them is no doubt in the 

R 2 mind ; 

200 ESSAY VI. [CHAP. $* 

mind ; the things conceived have no place, be- 
caufe they have not exiftence. Thus a circle, 
confidered abftractly, is faid figuratively to be in 
the mind of him that conceives it ; but in no 
other fenfe than the city of London or the king- 
dom of France is faid to be in his mind when he 
thinks of thofe objects. 

Place and time belong to finite things that 
exift, but not to things that are barely conceived.. 
They may be objects of conception to intelligent 
beings in every place, and at all times. , Hence 
the Pythagoreans and Platonifts were led to 
think that they are eternal and omniprefent. If 
they had exiftence, they muft be fo ; for they 
have no relation to any one place or time, w r hich' 
they have not to every place and to every time. 

The natural prejudice of mankind, that what 
we conceive muft have exiftence, led thofe an- 
cient Philofophers to attribute exiftence to ideas ; 
and by this they were led into all the extrava- 
gant and myfterious parts of their fyftem. When 
it is purged of thefe, I apprehend it to be the only 
intelligible and rational fyftem concerning ideas. 

I agree with them therefore, that ideas are 
immutably the fame in all times and places : For 
this means no more but that a circle is always 
a circle, and a fquare always a fquare. 

I agree with them, that ideas are the patterns 
or exemplars, by which every thing was made 
that had a beginning : For an intelligent arti- 
ficer muft conceive his work before it is made ; 



he makes it according to that conception ; and 
the thing conceived, before it exifts, can only be 
an idea. 

I agree wi.h them, that every fpecies of 
thing confi-lered abftractly is an idea ; and that 
the idea of the fpecies is in every individual of 
the fpecies, without divifion or multiplication, 
This indeed is expreffed fomewhat myfterioufly, 
according to fhe manner of the feci: ; but it may 
eafily be explained. 

Every idea is an attribute ; and it is a common 
way of fpeaking, to fay, that the attribute is in 
every fubject of which it may truly be affirmed. 
Thus, to be above fifty years of age, is an attri- 
bute or idea. This attribute may be in, or af- 
firmed of, fifty different individuals, and be the 
fame in all, without divifion or multiplication. 

I think, that not only every fpecies, but every 
genus, higher or lower, and every attribute con- 
fidered abftractly, is an idea. Thefe are things 
conceived without regard to exiftence ; they are 
univerfals, and therefore ideas, according to the 
ancient meaning of that word. 

It is true, that, after the Platonifts entered in- 
to difputes with the Peripatetics, in order to de- 
fend the exiftence of eternal ideas, they found it 
prudent to contract the line of defence, and main- 
tained only that there is an idea of every fpecies 
of natural things, but not of the genera, nor of 
things artificial. They were unwilling to mul- 
R 3 tiply 

262 ESSAY VI. [CHAP. 3. 

tiply beings beyond what was neceffary ; but in 
this I think they departed from the genuine, 
principles of their fyftem. 

The definition of a fpecies, is nothing but the 
definition of the genus, with the addition of a 
fpecific difference ; and the divifion of things into 
fpecies is the work of the mind, as well as their 
divifion into genera and claffes. A fpecies, a 
genus, an order, a clafs, is only a combination of 
attributes made by the mind, and called by one 
name. There is therefore the fame reafon for 
giving the name of idea to every attribute, and to 
every fpecies and genus, whether higher or low- 
er : Thefe are only more complex attributes, or 
combinations of the more fimple. And though 
it might be improper, without neceffity, to mul- 
tiply beings, which they believed to have a real 
exiftence ; yet, had they feen that ideas are not 
things that exift, but things that are conceived, 
they would have apprehended no danger nor ex- 
pence from their number. 

Simple attributes, fpecies and genera, lower 
or higher, are all things conceived without re- 
gard to exiftence ; they are univerfals ; they are 
expreffed by general words ; and have an equal 
title to be called by the name of ideas. 

I likewife agree with tliofe ancient Philofo- 
phers, that ideas are the object, and the fole ob- 
ject of fcience, ftrictly fo Called ; that is, of de- 
monftrative reafoning. 



And as ideas are immutable, fo their agree- 
ments and difagreements, and all their relations 
and attributes are immutable. All mathemati- 
cal truths are immutably true. Like the ideas 
about which they are converfant, they have no 
relation to time or place, no dependence upon 
exiftence or change. That the angles of a plane 
triangle are equal to two right angles, always 
was and always will be true, though no triangle 
had ever exifted. 

The fame may be faid of all abftracl truths. 
On that account they have often been called e- 
ternal truths : And for the fame reafon, the 
Pythagoreans afcribed eternity to the ideas about 
which they are converfant. They may very 
properly be called neceffary truths ; becaufe it 
is impoffible they fhould not be true at all times 
and in all places. 

Such is the nature of all truth that can be dif- 
covered, by perceiving the agreements and dif- 
agreements of ideas, when we take that word in 
its primitive fenfe. And that Mr Locke, in his 
definition of knowledge, had chiefly in his view 
abftracl: truths, we may be led to think from the 
examples he gives to illuftrate it. 

But there is another great clafs of truths, 
which are not abftract and neceffary, and there- 
fore cannot be perceived in the agreements and 
difagreements of ideas. Thefe are all the truths 
we know concerning the real exiftence of things t 
R a the 

264 ESSAY VI. [CHAP. 3. 

the truth of our own exiftence ; of the exiftence 
of other things, inanimate, animal and rational, 
and of their various attributes and relations. 

Thefe truths may be called contingent truths. 
I except only the exiftence and attributes of the 
Supreme Being, which is the only neceflary 
truth I know regarding exiftence. 

All other beings that exift, depend for their 
exiftence, and all that belongs to it, upon the 
will and power of the fir ft caufe ; therefore, nei^ 
ther their exiftence, nor their nature, nor any 
thing that befals them, is neceflary, but contin- 

But although the exiftence of the Deity be 
neceflary, I apprehend we can only deduce it 
from contingent truths. The only arguments 
for the exiftence of a Deity which I am able to 
comprehend, are grounded upon the knowledge 
of my own exiftence, and the exiftence of other 
finite beings. But thefe are contingent truths. 

I believe, therefore, that by perceiving agree- 
ments and difagreements of ideas, no contingent 
truth whatfover can be known, nor the real exif- 
tence of any thing, not even our own exiftence, 
nor the exiftence of a Deity, which is a ne- 
ceflary truth. Thus I have endeavoured to 
fhew what knowledge may, and what cannot be 
attained, by perceiving the agreements and dis- 
agreements of ideas, when we take that word in 
Its primitive fenfe. 



We are, in the next place, to confider, whe- 
ther knowledge confifts in perceiving the agree- 
ment or difagreement of ideas, taking ideas in 
any of the fenfes in which the word is ufed by Mr 
Locke and other modern Philofophers. 

1. Very often the word idea is ufed fo, that to 
have the idea of any thing is a periphrajis for 
conceiving it. In this fenfe, an idea is not an 
object of thought, it is thought itfelf. It is the 
act of the mind by which we conceive any ob- 
ject. And it is evident that this could not be 
the meaning which Mr Locke had in view in 
his definition of knowledge. 

1. A fecond meaning of the word idea is that 
which Mr Locke gives in the introduction to 
his Eflay, when he is making an apoiogy for the 
frequent ufe of it. " It being that terra, I think, 
" which ferves beft to ftand for whatfoevex isr 
" the object of the underftanding when a man 
" thinks, or whatever it is which a man can be 
" employed about in thinking." 

By this definition, indeed, every thing that 
can be the object of thought is an idea. The 
objects of our thoughts may, I think, be reduced 
to two claffes. 

The firft clafs comprehends all thofe objects 
which we not only can think of, but which. we 
believe to have a real exiftence. Such as the 
Creator of all things, and all his creatures that 
fall within our notice. I can think of the fun 


266 ESSAY VI. [CHAP. 3. 

and moon, the earth and fea, and of the various 
animal, vegetable, and inanimate productions 
with which it hath pleafed the bountiful Creator 
to enrich our globe. I can think of myfelf, of my 
friends and acquaintance. I think of the author 
of the Effay with high efteem. Thefe, and fuch 
as thefe, are objects of the underftanding which 
we believe to have real exiftence. 

A fecond clafs of objects of the underftanding 
which a man may be employed about in think- 
ing, are things which we either believe never to 
have exifted, or which we think of without re- 
gard to their exiftence. 

Thus, I can think of Don Quixote, of the 
ifland of Laputa, of Oceana, and of Utopia, which 
I believe never to have exifted. Every attribute, 
every fpecies, and every genus of things, confi- 
dered abftraclly, without any regard to their ex- 
iftence or non-exiftence, maybe an object of the 

To this fecond clafs of objects of the under- 
ftanding, the name of idea does very properjy 
belong, according to the primitive fenfe of the 
word, and I have already confidered what know- 
ledge does, and what does not confift in perceiv- 
ing the agreements and difagreements of fuch 

But if we take the word idea in fo extenfive 
a fenfe as to comprehend, not only the fecond, 
but alfo the firft clafs of objects of the under- 


(landing, it will undoubtedly be true, that all 
knowledge confifts in perceiving the agreements 
and difagreements of ideas : For it is impof- 
iible'that there can be any knowledge, any 
judgment, any opinion, true or falfe, which is 
not employed about the objects of the under- 
Handing. But whatfoever is an object of the 
underftanding is an idea, according to this fe- 
cond meaning of the word. 

Yet I am perfuaded that Mr Locke, in his 
definition of knowledge, did not mean that the 
word idea fhould extend to all thofe things which 
we commonly conlider as objects of the under- 

Though Bifhop Berkeley believed that fun, 
moon, and liars, and all material things, are 
ideas, and nothing but ideas, Mr Locke no 
where profeffes this opinion. He believed that 
we have ideas of bodies, but not that bodies are 
ideas. In like manner, he believed that we have 
ideas of minds, but not that minds are ideas. 
When he inquired fo carefully into the origin of 
all our ideas, he did not furely mean to find the 
origin of whatfoever may be the object of the 
underftanding, nor to refolve the origin of every 
thing that may be an object of underftanding 
into fenfation and reflection. 

3. Setting afide, therefore, the two meanings 
of the word idea before mentioned, as meanings 
which Mr Locke could not have in his view in 


268 £ S S A Y VI. [CHAP. 3. 

the definition he gives of knowledge, the only- 
meaning thai c. uld be intended in this place is 
that which I before called the philofophicai 
meaning of the word idea, which hath a refe- 
rence to the theory commonly received about 
- the manner in which the mind perceives exter- 
nal objects, and in which it remembers and con- 
ceives objects that are not prefent to it. It is a 
very ancient opinion, and has been very gene- 
rally received among Philofophers, that we can- 
not perceive or think of fuch objects immedi- 
ately, but by the medium of certain images or 
reprefentatives of them really exifling in the 
mind at the time. 

To thofe images the ancients gave the name 
of fpecies and phantafms. Modern Philofophers 
have given them the name of ideas. " It is evi- 
" dent," fays Mr Locke, book 4. ch. 4. " the 
" mind knows not things immediately, but only 
" by the intervention of the ideas it has of 
" them." And in the fame paragraph he puts 
this queftion : " How fhall the mind, when it 
" perceives nothing but its own ideas, know 
" that they agree with things themfelves ?" 

This theory I have already confidered, in treat- 
ing of perception, of memory, and of conception. 
The reader will there find the reafons that lead 
me to think, that it has no folid foundation in 
reafon, or in attentive reflection upon thofe ope- 
rations of our minds \ that it contradicts the im- 


mediate dictates of our natural faculties, which 
are of higher authority than any theory ■ that it 
has taken its rife from the fame pre udices which 
led all the ancient Philofophers to think, that the 
Deity could not make this world without fome 
eternal matter to work upon, and which led the 
Pythagoreans and Platonifts to think, that he 
could not conceive the plan of the world he was 
to make without eternal ideas really exifting as 
patterns to work by ; and that this theory, when 
its necefTary confequences are fairly purfued, 
leads to abfolute fcepticifm, though thofe confe- 
quences were not feen by molt of the Philofo- 
phers who have adopted it. 

I have no intention to repeat what has before 
been faid upon thofe points ; but only, taking 
ideas in this fenfe, to make fome obfervations up- 
on the definition which Mr Locke gives of 

Fir/I, If all knowledge confifts in perceiving 
the agreements and difagreements of ideas, that 
is, of reprefentative images of things exifting in 
the mind, it obvioully follows, that if there be 
no fuch ideas, there can be no knowledge : So 
that, if there mould be found good reafon for 
giving up this philofophical hypothefis, all know- 
ledge muft go along with it. 

I hope, however, it is not fo ; and that though 
this hypathelis, like many others, fliould totter 


270 ESSAY VI. [CHAP. 3* 

and fall to the ground, knowledge will continue 
to ftand firm, upon a more permanent bafis. 

The cycles and epicycles of the ancient Aftro- 
nomers were for a thoufand years thought ab- 
folutely neceffary to explain the motions of the 
heavenly bodies. Yet now, when all men be- 
lieve them to have been mere fi&ions, aftrono- 
my has not fallen with them, but (lands upon a 
more rational foundation than before. Ideas, 
or images of things exifting in the mind, have 
for a longer time been thought neceffary for ex- 
plaining the operations of the underftanding. If 
they mould like wife at laft be found to be fic- 
tions, human knowledge and judgment would 
fuffer nothing, by being difengaged from an un- 
wieldy hypothefis. Mr Locke furely did not 
look upon the exiftence of ideas as a philofophi- 
cal hypothefis. He thought that we are confci- 
ous of their exiftence, otherwife he would not 
have made the exiftence of all our knowledge to 
depend upon the exiftence of ideas. 

Secondly, Suppofing this hypothefis to be true, 
I agree with Mr Locke, that it is an evident and 
neceffary confequence that our knowledge can 
be converfant about ideas only, and muft coniifl 
in perceiving their attributes and relations. For 
nothing can be more evident than this, that all 
knowledge, and all judgment and opinion, muft 
be about things which are or may be immediate 
objects of our thought. What cannot be the ob- 


jecl: of thought, or the object of the mind in 
thinking, cannot be the object of knowledge or 
of opinion. 

Every thing we can know of any object muit 
be either fome attribute of the object, or fome 
relation it bears to fome other object or objects. 
By the agreements and difagreements of objects, 
I apprehend Mr Locke intended to exprefs both 
their attributes and their relations. If ideas then 
be the only objects of thought, the confequence 
is neceffary, that they mirft be the only objects 
of knowledge, and all knowledge mult conlift in 
perceiving their agreements and difagreements, 
that is, their attributes and relations. 

The ufe I would make of this confequence, is 
to (how that the hypothefis mull be falfe, from 
which it neceffary follows : For if we have any 
knowledge of things that are not ideas, it will 
follow no lefs evidently, that ideas are not the 
only objects of our thoughts. 

Mr Locke has pointed out the extent and li- 
mits of human knowledge in his fourth book, 
with more accuracy and judgment than any 
Philofopher had done before ; but he has not 
confined it to the agreements and difagreement-. 
of ideas. . And I cannot help thinking, that a 
great part of that book is an evident refutation 
of the principles laid down in the beginning of ir. 

Mr Locke did not believe that he himfelf was 
an idea; that his friends and acquaintance vvert 

ideas ; 

272 ESSAY VI. [CHAP. 3, 

ideas ; that the Supreme Being, to fpeak with 
reverence, is an idea ; or that the fun and moon, 
the earth and the fea, and other external objects 
of fenfe, are ideas. He believed that he had 
fome certain knowledge of all thofe objects. 
His knowledge, therefore, did not confift folely 
in perceiving the agreements and difagreements 
of his ideas : For, furely, to perceive the ex- 
iftence, the attributes, and relations of things, 
which are not ideas, is not to perceive the agree- 
ments and difagreements of ideas. A.nd if things 
which are not ideas be objects of knowledge, 
they mult be objects of thought. On the con- 
trary, if ideas be the only objects of thought, 
there can be no knowledge either of our own 
exiftence, or of the exiftence of external objects, 
or of the exiitence of a Deity. 

This confequence, as far as concerns the ex- 
iftence of external objects of fenfe, was after- 
wards deduced from the theory of ideas by Bifhop 
Berkeley with the cleareft evidence ; and that 
author chofe rather to adopt the confequence 
than to reject the theory on which it was ground- 
ed. But, with regard to the exiftence of our 
own minds, of other minds, and of a Supreme 
Mind, the Bifhop, that he might avoid the con- 
fequence, rejected a part of the theory, and 
maintained, that we can think of minds, of their 
attributes and relations, without ideas. 



Mr Hume faw very clearly the confequences 
of this theory, and adopted them in his fpecu- 
lative moments ; but candidly acknowledges, 
that, in the common bufinefs of life, he found 
himfelf under a neceffity of believing with the 
vulgar. His Treatife of Human Nature is the 
only fyftem to which the theory of ideas leads ; 
and, m my apprehenfion, is, in all its parts, the 
neceffary confequence of that theory. 

Mr Locke, however, did not fee all the con- 
fequences of that theory ; he adopted it without 
doubt or examination, carried along by the 
ftream of Philofophers that went before him; 
and his judgment and good fenfe have led him 
to fay many things, and to believe many things 
that cannot be reconciled to it. 

He not only believed his own exiftence, the 
exiftence of external things, and the exiftence of 
a Deity; but he has fhown very juftly how we 
come by the knowledge of thefe exiftences. 

It might here be expected, that he mould 
have pointed out the agreements and difagree- 
ments of ideas from which thefe exiftences are 
deduced ; but this is impoffible, and he has not 
even attempted it. 

Our own exiftence, he obferves, we know in- 
tuitively ; but this intuition is not a perception of 
the agreement or difagreement of ideas ; for the 
fubjecl: of the proportion, / exijl, is not an idea, 
but a perfon. 

Vol. II. S The. 

274 ESSAY V}J. [chap. 3. 

The knowledge of external objects of fenie, he 
obferves, we can have only by fenfation. This fen- 
Jation he afterwards exprefles more clearly by 
the tejlimony of ourfenfes, which are the proper and 
fole judges of this thing ; whofe teftimony ;> the 
greatefl ajfrurdnce we tan pojfibly have, and to 
which our faculties can attain. This is perfectly 
agreeable to the common fenfe of mankind, and 
is perfectly underftood by thofe who never heard 
of the theory of ideas. Our fertfes teftify im- 
mediately the existence, and many of the attri- 
butes and relations of external material beings ; 
and, by our conftitution, we rely with affurance 
upon their teftimony, without feeking a reafon 
for doing fo. This affurance, Mr Locke ac- 
knowledges, deferves the name of knowledge. 
But thofe external things are not ideas, nor are 
their attributes and relations the agreements and 
difagreements of ideas, but the agreements and 
difagreements of things which are not ideas. 

To reconcile this to the theory of ideas, Mr 
Locke fays, That it is the aSiual receiving of ideas 
from without that gives us notice of the exijlence of 
thofe external things. 

This, if underftood literally, would lead us 
back to the doctrine of Aristotle,, that our 
ideas or fpecies come from without from the 
external objects, and are the image or form of 
thofe objects. But Mr Locke, I believe, meant 
no more by it, but that our ideas of fenfe muft 



have a caufe, and that we are not the caufe of 
them ourfelves. 

Bifhop Berkeley acknowledges all this, and 
fhews very clearly, that it does not afford the 
leaft fhadow of reaion for the belief of any ma- 
terial object. Nay, that there can be nothing 
external that has any refemblance to our ideas 
but the ideas of other minds. 

It is evident, therefore, that the agreements 
and difagreements of ideas can give us no know- 
ledge of the exiftence of any material thing. If 
any knowledge can be attained of things which 
are not ideas, that knowledge is a perception of 
agreements and difagreements, not of ideas, but 
of things that are not ideas. 

As to the exiftence of a I>eity, though Mr 
Locke was aware that Des Cartes, and many 
after him, had attempted to prove it merely from 
the agreements and difagreements of ideas ; yet 
" he thought it an ill way of eftablifhing that 
" truth, and iilencing Atheifts, to lay the whole 
" ftrefs of lb important a point upon that fole 
" foundation." And therefore he proves this point 
with great ftrength and folidity, from our own 
exiftence, and the exiftence of the fenfible parts 
of the univerfe. By memory, Mr Locke fays, 
we have the knowledge of the paft exiftence of 
feveral things : But' all conception of paft ex- 
iftence, as well as of external exiftence, is irre- 
concilable to the theory of ideas ; becaufe it 

S 2 fuppofes 

276 ESSAY VI. [GHAP. 3. 

fuppofes that there may be immediate objefts of 
thought, which are not ideas prefently exifting 
in the mind. 

I conclude therefore, that if we have any 
knowledge of our own exiftence, or of the ex- 
iftence of what we fee about us, or of the ex- 
iftence of a Supreme Being; or if we have any 
knowledge of things paft by memory, that 
knowledge cannot coniift in perceiving the agree- 
ments and difagreements of ideas. 

This concluiion, indeed, is evident of itfelf : 
For if knowledge conlifts folely in the percep- 
tion of the agreement or difagreement of ideas, 
there can be no knowledge of any proportion 
which does not exprefs fome agreement or dif- 
agreement of ideas ; confequently there can be 
no knowledge of any proposition, which expref- 
fes either the exiftence, or the attributes or re- 
lations of things, which are not ideas. If there- 
fore the theory of ideas be true, there can be no 
knowledge 'of any thing but of ideas. And, on 
the other hand, if we have any knowledge of 
any thing befides ideas, that theory muft be 

There can be no knowledge, no judgment, or 
opinion about things which are not immediate 
objects of thought. This I take to be felf-evi- 
dent. If, therefore, ideas be the only immedi- 
ate objects of thought, they muft be the only 
things in nature of which we can have any 



knowledge, and about which we can have any 
judgment or opinion. 

This neceffary confequence of the common 
doctrine of ideas Mr Hume faw, and has made 
evident in his Treatife of Human Nature ; but 
the ufe he made of it was not to overturn the 
theory with which it is neceffarily connected, 
but to overturn all knowledge, and to leave no 
ground to believe any thing whatfoever. If Mr 
Locke had feen this confequence, there is rea- 
fon to think that he would have made another 
ufe of it. 

That a man of Mr Locke's judgment and pe- 
netration did not perceive a confequence fo evi- 
dent, feems indeed very flrange ; and I know no 
other account that can be given of it but this, 
that the ambiguity of the word idea has milled 
him in this, as in feveral other inftances. Ha- 
ving at firft defined ideas to be whatfoever is the 
object of the underftanding when we think, he 
takes it very often in that unlimited-fenfe ; and 
fo every thing that can be an object of thought 
is an idea. At other times, he ufes the word to 
iignify certain reprefentative images of things in 
the mind, which Philofophers have fuppofed to be 
immediate objects of thought. At other times, 
things conceived abftractly, without regard to 
their exiftence, are called ideas. Philofophy is 
much indebted to Mr Locke for his obferva- 
tions on the abufe of words. It is pity he did 

S 3 not 

278 ESSAY Vi. [CHAP. 3» 

nat apply thefe obfervations to the word idea, 
the ambiguity and abufe of which has very much 
hurt his excellent Effay. 

There are fome other opinions of Philofophers 
concerning judgment, of which I think it un- 
necefiary to fay much. 

Mr Hume fometimes adopts Mr Locke's opi- 
nion, that it is the perception of the agreement 
or difagreement of our ideas ; fometimes he 
maintains, that judgment and reafoning refolve 
themfelves into conception, and are nothing but 
particular ways of conceiving objects ; and he 
fays, that an opinion or . belief may moll accu- 
rately be defined, a lively idea related to or offi- 
ciated with a prefent imprejjion. Treatife of Hu- 
man Nature, vol. 1. page 172. 

I have endeavoured before, in the firft chap- 
ter of this EfTay, to fhew that judgment is an 
operation of mind fpecifically diftinct from the 
bare conception of an object. I have alfo con- 
sidered his notion of belief, in treating of the 
theories concerning memory. 

Dr Hartley fays, " That affent and diffent 
" muft come under the notion of ideas, being 
'* only thofe very complex internal feelings 
" which adhere by afibciation to fuch cluflers of 
"* words as are called proportions in general, or 
" affirmations and negations in particular." 

This, if I underftand its meaning, agrees with 
the opinion of Mr Hume above mentioned, and 
has therefore been before confidered. 



Dr Priestly has given another definition of 
judgment. " It is nothing more than the per- 
" ception of the univerfal concurrence, or the 
" perfect coincidence of two ideas ; or the want 
" of that concurrence or coincidence." This I 
think coincides with Mr Locke's definition, 
and therefore has been already confidered. 

There are many particulars which deferve to 
be known, and whidh might very properly be 
confidered in this ElTay on judgment ; concern- 
ing the various kinds of propofitions by which 
our judgments are exprefTed , their fubjecls and 
predicates; their converfions and oppofitions : 
But as thefe are to be found in every fyftem of 
logic from Aristotle down to the prefent age, 
I think it unneceflary to fwell this Effay with 
the repetition of what has been faid fo often- 
The remarks which have occurred to me upon 
what is commonly faid on thefe points, as well 
as upon the art of fyllogifm ; the utility of the 
fchool logic, and the improvements that may be 
made in it, may be found in a Short Account 
of Aristotle's Logic with Remarks, which 
Lord Kames has honoured with a place in his 
Sketches of the Hijiory of Man. 

S 4 CHAP, 

28a ISSAY VI. [CHA*. 4. 



Of firft Principles in General. 

ONE of the moft important diftindtions of 
our judgments is, that fome of them are 
intuitive, others grounded on argument. 

It is not in our power to judge as we will. 
The judgment is carried along neceffarily by the 
evidence, real or feeming, which appears to us 
at the time. But in propolitions that are fubmit- 
ted to our judgment there is this great differ- 
ence ; fome are of fuch a nature that a man of 
ripe underftanding may apprehend them di- 
ftin&ly, and perfectly underftand their mean- 
ing without finding himfelf under any neceffity 
of believing them to be true or falfe, probable 
or improbable. The judgment remains in fuf- 
pence, until it is inclined to one fide or another 
by reafons or arguments. 

But there are other propolitions which are no 
fooner underftood than they are believed. The 
judgment follows the apprehenfion of them ne- 
ceffarily, and both are equally the work of Na- 
ture, and the refult of our original powers. 
There is no fearching for evidence, no weighing 
of arguments ; the proportion is not deduced or 
inferred from another \ it has the light of truth 



in itfelf, and has no occafion to borrow it from 
another. - 

Propofitions of the laft kirtd, when they are 
ufed in matters of fcience, have commonly been 
called axioms j and on whatever occafion they 
are ufed, are called jirjl principles, principles of 
common fenfe, common notions, felf-evident truths. 
Cicero calls them Natuns judicia, judicia com- 
munibus hominum fenjibus infixa. Lord Shaftes- 
bury expreffes them by the words, natural know- 
ledge, fundamental reafon, and common fenfe. 

What has been faid, I think, is fufficient to 
diftinguifh firft principles, or intuitive judgments, 
from thofe which may be afcribed to the power 
of reafoning ; nor is it a juft objection againfl 
this diftincrion, that there may be fome judg- 
ments concerning which we may be dubious to 
which clafs they ought to be referred. There is a 
real diftinction between perfons within the houfe, 
and thofe that are without ; yet it may be dubious 
to which the man belongs that ftands upon the 

The power of reafoning, that is of drawing a 
conclufion from a chain of premifes, may with 
fome propriety be called an art. " All reafon- 
ing," fays Mr Locke, r is fearch and calling 
" about, and requires pains and application/' It 
refembles the power of walking, which is ac- 
quired by ufe and exercife. Nature prompts to 
it ; and has given the power of acquiring it; but 


3&1 ESSAY VI. [CHAP. 4. 

rHiuft be aided by frequent exercife before we are 
able to walk. After repeated efforts, much {tum- 
bling, -and many falls, we learn to walk; and it 
is in a fimilar manner that we learn to reafon. 

But the power of judging in felf-evident pro- 
portions, which are clearly undeftood, may be 
compared to the power of fwallowing our food. 
It is purely natural, and therefore common to 
the learned, and the unlearned ; to the trained, 
and the untrained : It requires ripenefs of un- 
derstanding, and freedom from prejudice, but 
nothing elfe. 

I take it for granted, that there are felf-evident 
principles. Nobody, I think, denies it. And 
if any man were Xo fceptical as to deny that 
there is any propofition that is felf-evident, I fee 
not how it would be poflible to convince him 
by reafoning. 

But yet there feems to be great difference of 
opinions among Philofophers about firft prin- 
ciples. What one takes to be felf-evident, an- 
other labours toprove by arguments, and a third 
denies altogether. 

Thus, before the time of Des Cartes, it was 
taken for a firft principle, that there is a fun and 
a moon, ;an earth and fea, which really exift, 
%vhether we think of them or not. Des Cartes 
thought that the exiftence of thofe things ought 
to be proved by argument ; and in this he has 
bttn followed by Malebranche, ARNAULD,and 



Locke. They have all laboured to prove, by 
very weak reafoning, the existence of external 
objects of fenfe ; and Berkeley and Hume, fen- 
lible of the weaknefs of their arguments, have 
been led to deny their exiftence altogether. 

The ancient Philofophers granted, that all 
knowledge muft be grounded on firft principles, 
and that there is no reafoning without them. 
The Peripatetic philofophy was redundant 'ra- 
ther than deficient in firft principles. Perhaps 
the abufe of them in that ancient fyftem may 
have brought them into difcredit in modern 
times ; for as the beft things may be abufed, lb 
that abufe is apt to give a difguft to the thing it- 
felf; and as one extreme often leads into the op- 
posite, this feems to have been the cafe in the re- 
fpect paid to firft principles in ancient and in 
modern times. 

Des Cartes thought one principle, expreffed 
in one word cogito,?. fufficient foundation for his 
whole fyftem, and afked no more. 

Mr Locke feems to think firft principles of 
very fmall ufe. . Knowledge confiding, accor- 
ding to him, in the perception of the agreement 
or difagreement of our ideas ; when we have 
clear ideas, and are able to compare them to- 
gether, we may always fabricate firft principles as 
often as we have occafion for them. Such differ- 
ences we find among Philofophers about firft 


284 ESSAY VI. [CHAP. 4. 

It is likewife a queftion of fome moment, 
whether the differences among men about firft 
principles can be brought to any iffue ? When, 
in difputes, one man maintains that to be a firft 
principle, which another denies, commonly both 
parties appeal to common fenfe, and fa the mat- 
ter refts. Now, is there no way of difcuffing this 
appeal ? Is there no mark or criterion, whereby 
firft principles that are truly fuch, may be diftin- 
guifhed from thofe that afiume the character 
without a juft title ? I mail humbly offer in the 
following propofitions what appears to me to be 
agreeable to truth in thefe matters, always ready 
to change my opinion upon conviction. 

1. Firft, I hold it to be certain, and even de- 
monftrable, That all knowledge got by reafon- 
ing muft be built upon firft principles. 

This is as certain as that every houfe muft 
have a foundation. The power of reafoning, in 
this refpecl:, refembles the mechanical powers or 
engines ; it muft have a fixed point to reft upon, 
otherwife it fpends its force in the air, and pro- 
duces no erTecl:. 

When we examine, in the way of analyfis, the 
evidence of any propofition, either we find it 
felf-evident, or it refts upon one or more propo- 
fitions that fupport it. The fame thing may be 
faid of the propofitions that fupport it \ and of 
thofe that fupport them, as far back as we can 
go. But we cannot go back in this track to in- 


finity. Where then muft this analyfis ftop ? It 
is evident that it muft ftoponly when we come 
to propofitions, which fupport all that are built 
upon them, but are themfelves fupported by 
none, that is, to felf- evident propoiitions. 

Let us again confider a fy nthetical proof of any 
kind, where we begin with the premifes, and 
purfue a train of confequences, until we come to 
the laft conclufion, or thing to be proved. Here 
we muft begin, either with felf- evident propoii- 
tions, or with fuch as have been already proved. 
When the laft is the cafe, the proof of the propo- 
iitions, thus affumed, is a part of our proof; and 
the proof is deficient without it. Suppofe then 
the deficiency fupplied, and the proof completed, 
is it not evident that it muft fet out with felf-evi- 
dent propofitions, and that the whole evidence 
muft reft upon them ? So that it appears to be 
demonftrable that, without firft principles, ana- 
lytical reafoning could have no end, and fynthe- 
tical reafoning could have no beginning ; and 
that every conclufion got by reafoning muft reft 
with its whole weight upon firft principles, as 
the building does upon its foundation. 

1. Afecond propofition is, That fome firft 
principles yield conclufions that are certain, o~ 
thers fuch as are probable, in various degrees, 
from the higheft probability to the loweft. 

In juft reafoning, the ftrength or weaknefs of 
the conclufion will always correfpond to that of 
the principles on which it is grounded. 


2:86 ess Air vi. [chap, 4, 

In a matter of teitimony, it is felf-evident, that 
the teftimony of two is better than that of one, 
fuppofing them equal in character, and in their 
means of knowledge ; yet the fingle teftimony 
may be true, and that which! is preferred to, it 
may be falfe. 

When an experiment has fucceeded in feveral 
trials, and the circumftances have been marked 
with care, there is a felf- evident probability of 
its fucceeding in a new trial ; but there is no 
certainty. The probability, in fome cafes, is. 
much greater than in others ; becaufe, in fomc 
cafes, it is much ealier to obferve all the circum- 
ftances that may have influence upon the event 
than in others. And it is poffible, that, after 
many experiments made with care, our expecta- 
tion may be fruftrated in a fucceeding one, by 
the variation of fome circumftance that has not, 
or perhaps could not be obferved. 

Sir Isaac Newton has laid it down as a firft 
principle in natural phiiofophy, that a property 
which has been found in all bodies upon which 
we have had accefs to make experiments, and 
which has always been found in its quantity to 
be in exact proportion td the quantity of matter 
in every body, is to be held as an univerfal pro- 
perty of matter. 

This principle, as far as I know, has never 
been called in queftion. The evidence we have, 
tin at all matter is divifible, moveable, folid, and 



inert, is refolveabte into this principle ; and if it 
be not true, we cannot have any rational convic- 
tion that all matter has thofe properties. From 
the fame principle that . great man has (hewn, 
that we have reafon to conclude, that all bodies 
gravitate towards each other. 

This principle, however, has not that kind of 
evidence which mathematical axioms have. It 
is not a necefiary truth whofe contrary is impof- 
fible ; nor did Sir Isaac ever conceive it to be 
fuch. And if it ihould ever be found, by juft 
experiments, that there is any part in the com- 
poiition of fome bodies which has not gravity, 
the facf, if duly afcertained, muft be admitted 
as an exception to the general law of gravita- 

In games of chance, it is a firft principle, that 
every fide of a die has an equal chance to be turn- 
ed up ; and that, in a lottery, every ticket has an 
equal chance of being drawn out. From fuch 
firft principles as thefe, which are the bell we 
can have in fuch matters, we may deduce, by 
demonstrative reafoning, the precife degree of 
probability of every event in fuch games. 

But the principles of all this accurate and pro- 
found reafoning can never yield a certain con- 
clufion, it being impoffible to fupply a defect m 
the firft principles by any accuracy in the rea- 
foning that is grounded upon them. As water, 
by its gravity, can rife no higher in its courfe 


288 ESSAY VI. [CHAP. 4. 

than the fountain, however artfully it be con- 
ducted ; fo no conclufion of reafoning can have 
a greater degree of evidence than the firft prin- 
ciples from which it is dfawn. 

From thefe inftances, it is evident, that as there 
are fome firft principles that yield conclufions 
of abfolute certainty ; fo there are others that 
can only yield probable conclufions ; and that 
the lowed degree of probability muft be ground- 
ed on firft principles as well as abfolute cer* 

3. A third propofition is, that it would contri- 
bute greatly to the ftability of human know- 
ledge, and confequently to the improvement of 
it, if the firft principles upon which the various 
parts of it are. grounded were pointed out and 

We have ground to think fo, both from facts, 
and from the nature of the thing. 

There are two branches of human knowledge 
in which this method has been followed, to wit, 
mathematics and natural philofophy ; in mathe- 
matics, as far back as we have books. It is in 
this fcience only, that, for more than two thou- 
fand years fince it began to be cultivated, we 
find no fedts, no contrary fyftems, and hardly 
any difputes \ or, if there have been difputes, 
they have ended as foon as the animofity of par- 
ties fubfided, and have never been again revived. 
The fcience, oBce firmly eftablifhed upon the 



foundation of a few axioms and definitions, as 
upon a rock, has grown from age to age, fo as 
to become the loftieft and the molt folid fabric 
that human reafon can boaft. 

Natural philofophy, till lefs than two hundred 
years ago, remained in the fame fluctuating ftate 
with the other fciences. Every new fyftem pul- 
led up the old by the roots. The fyftem-build- 
ers, indeed, were always willing to accept of the 
aid of firft principles, when they were of their 
fide ; but finding them infufficient to fupport 
the fabric which their imagination had raifed, 
they were only brought in as auxiliaries, and fo 
intermixed with conjectures, and with lame in- 
ductions, that their fyftems were like Nebuchad- 
nezzar's image, whofe feet were partly of iron 
and partly of clay. 

Lord Bacon firft delineated the only folid foun- 
dation on which natural philofophy can be built ; 
and Sir Isaac Newton reduced the principles 
laid down by Bacon into three or four axioms, 
which he calls regula philofophandi. From thefe, 
together, with the phenomena obferved by the 
fenfes, which he likewife lays down as firft prin- 
ciples, he deduces, by ftricf reafoning, the pro- 
positions contained in the third book of his Prin- 
cipia, and in his Optics ; and by this means has 
raifed a fabric in thofe two branches of natural 
philofophy, which is not liable to be fhaken by 
Vol. II. T doubtful 

29O ESSAY VI. [CHAP. 4, 

doubtful difputation, but ftands immoveable up- 
on the bafis of felf-evident principles. 

This fabric has been carried on by the accef- 
lion of new difcoveries 5 but is no more fubjecl: 
to revolutions. 

The difputes about materia prima, fubftantial 
forms, Nature's abhorring a vacuum, and bodies 
having no gravitation in their proper place, are 
now no more. The builders in this work are 
not put to the necefiity of holding a weapon in 
one hand while they build with the other ; their 
whole employment is to carry on the work. 

Yet it feems to be very probable, that if natu- 
ral philofophy had not been reared upon this fo- 
lid foundation of felf-evident principles, it would 
have been to this day a field of battle, wherein 
every inch of ground would have been difputed, 
and nothing fixed and determined. 

I acknowledge that mathematics and natural 
philofophy, efpecially the former, have this ad- 
vantage of moll other fciences, that it is lefs dif- 
iicult to form diitinct, and determinate concep- 
tions of the objects about which they are em- 
ployed ; but as this difficulty is not infuperable, 
it affords a good reafon, indeed, why other fci- 
ences ihould have a longer infancy • but no rea- 
fon at all why they may net at laft arrive at ma- 
turity, by the fame fteps as thofe of quicker 



The facts I have mentioned may therefore 
lead us to conclude, that if in other branches of 
philofophy the firft principles were laid down, as 
has been done in mathematics and natural phi- 
lofophy, and the fubfequent conclufions ground- 
ed upon them, this would make it much more 
eafy to diftinguifh what is folid and well fup- 
ported from the vain fictions of human fancy. 

But laying afide facts, the nature of the thing 
leads to the fame conclufion. 

For when any fyftem is grounded upon firft 
principles, and deduced regularly from them, we 
have a thread to lead us through the labyrinth. 
The judgment has a diftinct and determinate ob- 
ject. The heterogeneous parts being feparated, 
can be examined each by itfelf. 

The whole fyftem is reduced to axioms, defi- 
nitions, and deductions. Thefe are materials of 
very different nature, and to be meafured by a 
very different ftandard ; and it is much more 
eafy to judge of each, taken by itfelf, than to 
judge of a mafs wherein they are kneaded toge- 
ther without diftinction. Let us confider how 
we judge of each of them. 

Firft, As to definitions, the matter is very 
eafy. They relate only to words, and differen- 
ces about them may produce different ways of 
fpeaking, but can never produce different ways 
of thinking, while every man keeps to his own 

T 2 But 

%^1 ESSAY VI. [CHAP. 4, 

But as there is not a more plentiful fource of 
fallacies in reafoning than mens uiing the fame 
word fometimes in one fenfe and at other times 
in another, the beft means of preventing fuch 
fallacies, or of detecting them when they are 
committed, is definitions of words as accurate as 
can be given. 

Secondly^ As to deductions drawn from prin- 
ciples granted on both fides, I do not fee how 
they can long be a matter of difpute among men 
who are not blinded by prejudice or partiality : 
For the rules of reafoning by which inferences 
may be drawn from premifes have been for two 
thoufand years fixed with great unanimity. No 
man pretends to difpute the rules of reafoning 
laid down by Aristotle, and repeated by every 
writer in dialectics. 

And we may obferve by the way, that the rea- 
fon why Logicians have been fo unanimous in 
determining the rules of reafoning, from Ari- 
stotle down to this day, feems to be, that they 
were by that great genius raifed, in a fcientific 
manner, from a few definitions and axioms. It 
may further be obferved, that when men differ 
about a deduction, whether it follows from certain 
premifes, this I think is always owing to their 
differing about fome firft principle. I fhall ex- 
plain this by an example. 

Suppcfe that, from a thing having begun to 
exift, one man infers that it mint have had a 

caufe \ 


caufe ; another man does not admit the infe- 
rence. Here it is evident, that the firft takes 
it for a felf-evident principle, that every thing 
which begins to exift mull have a caufe. The 
other does not allow this to be felf-evident. Let 
them fettle this point, and the difpute will be at 
an end. 

Thus I think it appears, that in matters of 
fcience, if the terms be properly explained, the 
firft principles upon which the reafoning is 
grounded be laid down and expofed to exami- 
nation, and the conclufions regularly deduced 
from them, it might be expected, that men of 
candour and capacity, who love truth, and have 
patience to examine things coolly, might come 
to unanimity with regard to the force of the de- 
ductions, and that their differences might be re- 
duced to thofe they may have about firft prin- 

4. A fourth proportion is, that Nature hath 
not left us deftitute of means whereby the can- 
did and honeft part of mankind may be brought 
to unanimity when they happen to differ about 
firft principles. > 

When men differ about things that are taken 
to be firft principles or felf-evident truths, rea- 
foning feems to be at an end. Each party ap- 
peals to common fenfe. When one man's com- 
mon fenfe gives one determination, another 
man's a contrary determination, there feems to 
T 3 be 

294 ESSAY VI. [CHAP. 4. 

be no remedy but to leave every man to enjoy 
his own opinion. This is a common obfervation, 
and I believe a juft one, if it be rightly under- 

It is in vain to reafon with a man who denies 
the firft principles on which the reafoning is 
grounded. Thus, it would be in vain to at- 
tempt the proof of a propofition in Euclid to a 
man who denies the axioms. Indeed, we ought 
never to reafon with men who deny firft prin- 
ciples from obftinacy and unwillingnefs to yield 
to reafon. 

But is it not pofiible, that men who really 
love truth, and are open to conviclion, may dif- 
fer about firft principles ? 

I think it is poffible, and that it cannot, with- 
out great want of charity, be denied to be pof- 

When this happens, every man who believes 
that there is a real diftindtion between truth and 
error, an$ that the faculties which God has given 
us are not in their nature fallacious, muft be 
convinced that there is a defedt, or a perverfion 
of judgment on the one fide or the other. 

A man of candour and humility will, in fuch 
a cafe, very naturally fufpecl his own judg- 
ment, fo far as to be defirous to enter into a feri- 
ous examination, even of what he has long held 
as a firft principle. He will think it not impof- 
fible, that although his heart be upright, his 



judgment may have been perverted, by educa- 
tion, by authority, by party zeal, or by fome 
other of the common caufes of error, from the 
influence of which neither parts nor integrity 
exempt the human underftanding. 

In fuch a ft ate of mind, fo amiable, and fo be- 
coming every good man, has Nature left him 
deftitute of any rational means by which he may 
be enabled, either to correct his judgment if it 
be wrong, or to confirm it if it be right? 

I hope it is not fo. I hope that, by the means 
which Nature has furnifhed, controverfies a- 
bout firft principles may be brought to an ifTue, 
and that the real lovers of truth may come to 
unanimity with regard to them. 

It is true, that, in other controverfies, the pro- 
cefs by which the truth of a propofition is dis- 
covered, or its falfehood detected, is, by fhew- 
ing its neceffary connection with firft principles, 
or its repugnancy to them. It is true, likewife, 
that when the controverfy is, whether a propofi- 
tion be itfelf a firft principle, this procefs can- 
not be applied. The truth, therefore, in con- 
troverfies of this kind, labours under a peculiar 
difadvantage. But it has advantages of another 
kind to compenfate this. 

1. For, in the firft place, in fuch controver- 
fies, every man is a competent judge ; and there- 
fore it is difficult to impofe upon mankind. 

P 4 To 

296 ESSAY VI. [CHAP. 4. 

To ju&g§ of firft principles, requires no more 
than a found mind free from prejudice, and a 
diixinct conception of the queftion. The learn- 
ed and the unlearned, the Philofopher and the 
day-labourer, are upon a level, and will pafs the 
fame judgment, when they are not milled by 
fome bias, or taught to renounce their under- 
Handing from fome miilaken religious principle. 

In matters beyond the reach of common un- 
derftanding, the many are led by the few, and 
willingly yield to their authority. But, in mat- 
ters of common fenfe, the few muft yield to the 
many, when local and temporary prejudices are 
removed. No man is now moved by the fubtile 
arguments of Zeno againil motion, though per- 
haps he knows not how to anfwer them. 

The ancient iceptical fyftem furnifhes a re- 
markable inftance of this truth. That fyftem, 
of which Pyrrho was reputed the father, was 
carried down, through a fucceffion of ages, by 
very able and acute Philoibphers, who taught 
men to believe nothing at all, and efteemed it 
the higheft pitch of human wifdom to with-hold 
aiTent from every propofition whatfoever. It 
was fupported with very great fubtilty and 
learning, as we fee from the writings of Sextus 
Empirjcus, the only author of that feci whofe 
writings have come down to our age. The af- 
fault of the Sceptics againil all fcience feems to 



have been managed with more art and addrefs 
than the defence of the Dogmatifts. 

Yet, as this fyftem was an infult upon the 
common fenfe of mankind, it died away of it- 
felf ; and it would be in vain to attempt to re- 
vive it. The modern fcepticifm is very differ- 
ent from the ancient, otherwife it would not 
have been allowed a hearing ; and, when it has 
loll the grace of novelty, it will die away alfo, 
though it fhould never be refuted. 

The modern fcepticifm, I mean that of Mr 
Hume, is built upon principles which were very 
generally maintained by Philofophers, though 
they did not fee that they led to fcepticifm. Mi- 
Hume, by tracing, with great acutenefs and in- 
genuity, the confequences of principles common- 
ly received, has ihewn that they overturn all 
knowledge, and at laft overturn themfelves, and 
leave the mind in perfecl fufpenfe. 

2. Secondly, We may obferve, that opinions 
which contradict firft principles are diftinguifned 
from other errors by this ; that they are not on- 
ly falfe, but abfurd : And, to difcountenance ab- 
furdity, Nature hath given us a particular emo- 
tion, to wit, that of ridicule, which feems in- 
tended for this very purpofe of putting out of 
countenance what is abfurd, either in opinion or 

This weapon, when properly applied, cuts 
with as keen an edge as argument. Nature hath 


298 ESSAY VI. [CHAP. 4. 

furnifhed us with the firft to expofe abfurdity ; 
as with the laft to refute error. Both are well 
fitted for their feveral offices, and are equally 
friendly to truth when properly ufed. 

Both may be abufed to ferve the caufe of er- 
ror : But the fame degree of judgment, which 
ferves to detect the abufe of argument in falfe 
reafoning, ferves to detect the abufe of ridicule 
when it is wrong directed. 

Some have from nature a happier talent for 
ridicule than others ; and the fame thing holds 
with regard to the talent of reafoning. Indeed, 
I conceive there is hardly any abfurdity, which, 
when touched with the pencil of a Lucian, a 
Swift, or a Voltaire, would not be put out of 
countenance, when there is not fome religious 
panic, or very powerful prejudice, to blind the 

But it mull be acknowledged, tljat the emo- 
tion of ridicule, even when moft natural, may 
be ftifled by an emotion of a contrary nature, 
and cannot operate till that is removed. 

Thus, if the notion of fanctity is annexed to 
an object, it is no longer a laughable matter ; 
and this vifor muft be pulled off before it ap- 
pears ridiculous. Hence we fee, that notions 
which appear moft ridiculous to all who con- 
fider them coolly and indifferently, have no 
fuch appearance to thofe who never thought of 



them, but under the imprefiion of religious awe 
and dread. 

Even where religion is not concerned, the no* 
velty of an opinion to thofe who are too fond of 
novelties ; the gravity and folemnity with which 
it is introduced ; the opinion we have entertain- 
ed of the author ; its apparent connection with 
principles already embraced, or fubferviency to 
interefts which we have at heart ; and, above 
all, its being fixed in our minds at that time of 
life when we receive implicitly what we are 
taught ; may cover its abfurdity, and fafcinate 
the underftanding for a time. 

But if ever we are able to view it naked, and 
ftripped of thofe adventitious circumflances from 
which it borrowed its importance and authority, 
the natural emotion of ridicule will exert its 
force. An abfurdity can be entertained by men 
of fenfe no longer than it wears a malk. When 
any man is found who has the fkill or the bold- 
nefs to pull off the malk, it can no longer bear 
the light ; it ilinks into dark corners for a while, 
and then is no more heard of, but as an object 
of ridicule. 

Thus I conceive, that firft principles, which 
are really the dictates of common fenfe, and di- 
Tectly oppofed to abfurdities in opinion, will al- 
ways, from the conftitution of human nature, 
fupport themfelves, [and gain rather than lofe 
ground among mankind. 

3. Thirdly, 

300 ESSAY VI, fcHAP. 4<, 

3. Thirdly, It may be obferved, that although 
it is contrary to the nature of firft principles to 
admit of direct or apodiclical proof; yet there 
are certain ways of reafoning even -about them, 
by which thofe that are juft and folid may be 
confirmed, and thofe that are falfe maybe detec- 
ted. It may here be proper to mention fome of 
'the topics from which we may reafon in matters 
of this kind. 

Firft, It is a good argument ad hominem, if it 
can be fhewn, that a firft principle which a man 
reje&s, ftands upon the fame footing with others 
which he admits : For, when this is the cafe, he 
muft be guilty of an inconfiftency who holds the 
one and rejects the other. 

Thus the faculties of confcioufnefs, of memo- 
ry, of external feme, and of reafon, are all equal- 
ly the gifts of Nature. No good reafon can be 
affigned for receiving the teftimony of one of 
them, which is not of equal force with regard to 
the others. The greateft Sceptics admit the tef- 
timony of confcioufnefs, and allow, that what it 
teftifies is to be held as a firft principle. If there- 
fore they reject the immediate teftimony of fenfe, 
or of memory, they are guilty of an inconfiften- 

Secondly, A firft principle may admit of a 
proof ad abfurdum. 

In this kind of proof, which is very common in 
mathematics, we fuppofe the contradictory pro- 
portion to be true. We trace the confequences 



of that fuppofition in a train of reafoning ; and 
if we find any of its neceffary confequences to be 
manifeftly abfurd, we conclude the fuppofition 
from which it followed to be falfe ; and there- 
fore its contradictory to be true. 

There is hardly any propofition, efpecially of 
thofe that may claim the character of firft prin- 
ciples, that ftands alone and unconnected. It 
draws many others along with it in a chain that 
cannot be broken. He that takes it up mult 
bear the burden of all its confequences ; and if 
that is too heavy for him to bear, he mufl not 
pretend to take it up. 

Thirdly, I conceive, that the confent of ages 
and nations, of the learned and unlearned, ought 
to have great authority with regard to firft prin- 
ciples, where every man is a competent judge. 

Our ordinary conduct in life is built upon firft 
principles, as well as our fpeculations in philofo- 
phy ; and every motive to action fuppofes fome 
belief. When we find a general agreement 
among men, in principles that concern human 
life, this muft have great authority with every 
fober mind that loves truth. 

It is pleafant to obferve the fruitlefs pains 
which Bifhop Berkeley takes to fhew, that 
his fyftem of the non-exiftence of a material 
world did not contradict the fentiments of the 
vulgar, but thofe only of the Philofophers. 


3 02 ESSAY VI. [CHAP. 4. 

With good reafon he dreaded more to oppofe 
the authority of vulgar opinion in a matter of 
this kind, than all the fchools of Philofophers. 

Here perhaps it will be faid, What has autho- 
rity to do in matters of opinion ? Is truth to be 
determined by molt votes ? Or is authority to 
be again raifed out of its grave to tyrannife over 
mankind ? 

I am aware that, in this age, an advocate for 
authority has a very unfavourable plea \ but I 
wifh to give no more to authority than is its 

Moft juftly do we honour the names of thofe 
benefaclors to mankind who have contributed 
more or lefs to break the yoke of that authority 
which deprives men of the natural, the unalie- 
nable right of judging for themfelvqs ; but while 
we indulge a juft animoiity againft this autho- 
rity, and againlt all who would fubject us to its 
tyranny, let us remember how common the folly 
is, of going from one faulty extreme into the 

Authority, though a very tyrannical miftrefs 
to private judgment, may yet, on fome occafions, 
be a ufeful handmaid ; this is all fhe is entitled 
to, and this is all I plead in her behalf. 

The juftice of this plea will appear by put- 
ting a cafe in a fcience, in which, of all fciences, 
authority is acknowledged to have leaft weight. 



Suppofe a Mathematician has made a difco- 
very in that fcience, which he thinks impor- 
tant; that he has put his demonftration in juft 
order ; and, after examining it with an attentive 
eye, has found no flaw in it ; I would afk, Will 
there not be ftill in his breaft fome diffidence, 
fome jealoufy left the ardour of invention may 
have made him overlook fome falfe ftep ? This 
mult be granted. 

He commits his demonftration to the exami- 
nation of a mathematical friend, whom he e- 
fteems a competent judge, and waits with im- 
patience the ifiue of his judgment. Here I 
would alk again, Whether the verdict of his 
friend, according as it is favourable or unfavour- 
able, will not greatly increafe or diminifh his 
confidence in his own judgment ? Molt certain- 
it will, and it ought. 

If the judgment of his friend agree with his 
own, efpecially if it be confirmed by two or 
three able judges, he refts fecure of his difco- 
very without further examination; but if it be 
unfavourable, he is brought back into a kind of 
fufpenfe, until the part that is fufpecled under- 
goes a new and a more rigorous examination. 

I hope what is fuppofed in this cafe is agree- 
able to nature, and to the experience of candid 
and modeft men on fuch occafions ; yet here we 
fee a man's judgment, even in a mathematical 
demonftration, confcious of fome feeblenefs in 


304 ESSAY VI. [CHAP. 4. 

itfelf, feeking the aid of authority to fupport it, 
greatly ftrengthened by that authority, and hard- 
ly able to Hand ered againfl it, without fome 
new aid. 

Society in judgment, of thofe who are efteem- 
ed fair and competent judges, has effects very 
iimilar to thofe of civil fociety ; it gives firength 
and courage to every {individual ; it removes 
that timidity which is as naturally the com- 
panion of folitary judgment, as of a folitary man 
in the ftate of nature. 

Let us judge for ourfelves therefore, but let 
us not difdain to take that aid from the autho- 
rity of other competent judges, which a Mathe- 
matician thinks it neceffary to take in that 
fcience, which of all fciences has leaft to do with 

In a matter of common fenfe, every man is no 
lefs a competent judge, than a Mathematician is 
in a mathematical demonftration ; and there 
mult be a great prefumption that the judgment 
of mankind, in fuch a matter, is the natural if- 
fue of thofe faculties which God hath given 
them. Such a judgment can be erroneous only 
when there is fome caufe of the error, as general 
as the error is : When this can be fhewn to 
be the cafe, I acknowledge it ought to have 
its due weight. But to fuppofe a general devi- 
ation from truth among mankind in things felf- 



evident, of which no caufe can be affigned, is 
highly unreafonable. 

Perhaps it may be thought impoffible to col- 
lect the general opinion of men upon any point 
whatfoever ; and therefore, that this authority 
can ferve us in no Head in examining firft prin- 
ciples. But I apprehend, that, in many cafes, 
this is neither impoffible nor difficult. 

Who can doubt whether men have uni- 
verfally believed the exigence of a material 
world ? Who can doubt whether men have 
univerfally believed, that every change that hap- 
pens in nature muft have a caufe ? Who can 
doubt whether men have univerfally believed, 
that there is a right and a wrong in human con- 
duct ; fome things that merit blame, and others 
that are entitled to approbation ? 

The univerfality of thefe opinions, and of 
many fuch that might be named, is fufficiently 
evident, from the whole tenor of human conduct, 
as far as our acquaintance reaches, and from 
the hiitory of all ages and nations of which we 
have any records. 

There are other opinions that appear to be 
univerfal, from what is common in the ftructure 
of all languages. 

Language is the exprefs image and piclure of 
human thoughts ; and from the picture we may 
draw fome certain conclusions concerning the 

Vol. II. U We 

306 EiSAY VI. [CHAP.4,, 

We find in all languages the fame parts of 
fpeech ; we find nouns, fubftantive and adjec- 
tive ; verbs, active and paffive, in their various 
tenfes, numbers and moods. Some rules of fyn- 
tax are the fame in all languages. 

Now what is common in the ftructure of lan- 
guages, indicates an uniformity of opinion in 
thofe things upon which that ftructure is ground- 

The diftinction between fubftances and the 
qualities belonging to them ; between thought, 
and the being that thinks ; between thought, 
and the objects of thought ;■ is to be found in 
the ftructure of all languages : And therefore, 
fyftems of philofophy, which abolifh thofe di- 
ftinctions, wage war with the common fenfe of 

We are apt to imagine, that thofe who form- 
ed languages were no Metaphyficians ; but the 
firft principles of all fciences are the dictates of 
common fenfe, and lie open to all men ; and 
every man who has coniidered the ftructure of 
language in a philofophical light, will find infal- 
lible proofs that thofe who have framed it, and 
thofe who ufe it with underftanding, have the 
power of making accurate diftinctions, and of 
forming general conceptions, as well as Philo- 
fophers. Nature has given thofe powers to all 
men, and they can ufe them when their occaiions 
require it ; but they leave it to the Philofophers 



to give names to them, and to defcant upon their 
nature. In dike manner, Nature has given eyes 
to air men, and they can make good ufe of 
them; but the ftructure of the eye, and the 
theory of viiion, is the bufinefs of Philofophers. 

Fourthly, Opinions that appear fo early in the 
minds of men, that they cannot be the effect of 
education, or of falfe reafoning, have a good 
claim to be confidered as firft principles. Thus 
the belief we have, that the perfons about us are 
living and intelligent beings, is a belief for which 
perhaps we can give fome reafon, when we are 
able to reafon ; but we had this belief before we 
could reafon, and before we could learn it by in- 
ftruction. It feems therefore to be an immediate 
effect of our conftitution. 

The loft topic I (hall mention is, when an opi- 
nion is fo neceffary in the conduct of life, that 
without the belief of it, a man mult be led into 
a thoufand abfurdities in practice, fuch an opi- 
nion, when we can give no other reafon for it, 
may fafely be taken for a firit principle. 

Thus I have endeavoured to ihew, that al- 
though firft principles are not capable of direct 
proof, yet differences, that may happen with re- 
gard to them among men of candour, are not 
without remedy; that Nature, has not left us 
deltitute of means by which we may difcover 
errors of this kind ; and that there are ways of 
reafoning, with regard to firft principles, by 

U 2, which 

308 essay vi. [chap. 5, 

which thofe that are truly fuch may be diftin- 
guifhed from vulgar errors or prejudices. 


The firft Principles of contingent Truths. 

< 4 OURELY, fays Bifhop Berkeley, it is a 
kJ " work well deferving our pains, to make 
" a ftrict inquiry concerning the firft principles 
" of knowledge ; to lift and examine them on 
" all fides." What was faid in the laft chapter, 
is intended both to fhew the importance of this 
inquiry, and to make it more eafy. 

But, in order that fuch an inquiry may be ac- 
tually made, it is neceffary that the firft prin- 
ciples of knowledge be diilinguifhed from other 
truths, and prefented to view, that they may be 
lifted and examined on all fides. In order to 
this end, I lhall attempt a detail of thofe I take 
to be fuch, and of the reafons why I think them 
entitled to that character. 

If the enumeration mould appear to fome re- 
dundant, to others deficient, and to others both m 3 
if things, which I conceive to be firft principles, 
fhould to others appear to be vulgar errors, or to 
be truths which derive their evidence from other 
truths, and therefore not firft principles ; in thefe 
things every man muft judge for himfelf. I lhall 



rejoice to fee an enumeration more perfect in any 
or in all of thofe refpects ; being perfuaded, that 
the agreement of men of judgment and candour 
in firft principles, would be of no lefs conie- 
quence to the advancement of knowledge in ge- 
neral, than the agreement of Mathematicians in 
the axioms of geometry has been to the advance- 
ment of that fcience. 

The truths that fall within the compafs of hu- 
man knowledge, whether they be felf-evident, or 
deduced from thofe that are felf-evident, may 
be reduced to two clafTes. They are either ne- 
ceffary and immutable truths, whofe contrary is 
impoffible ; or they are contingent and mutable, 
depending upon fome effect of will and power, 
which had a beginning, and may have an end. 

That a cone is the third part of a cylinder of 
the fame bafe and the fame altitude, is a neceffa- 
ry truth. It depends not upon the will and 
power of any being. It is immutably true, and 
the contrary impoffible. That the fun is the 
centre, about which the earth, and the other 
planets of our fyitem, perform their revolutions, 
is a truth; but it is not a necefiary truth. It de- 
pends upon the power and will of that Being 
who made the fun and all the planets, and who 
gave them thofe motions that feemed bed to him. 

If all truths were neceffary truths, there would 

be no occafion for different tenfes in the verbs 

by which they are expreffed. What is true in 

U 3 the 


the prefent time, would be true in the paft and 
future ; and there would be no change or varia- 
tion of any thing in nature. 

We ufe the prefent tenfe in expreiling necef- 
fary truths ; but it is only becaufe there is no 
flexion of the verb which includes all times. 
When I lay that three is the half of fix, I ufe 
the prefent tenfe only; but I mean to exprefs 
not only what now is, but what always was, and 
always will be : and fo every propolition is to be 
underftood by which we mean to exprefs a ne- 
cefTary truth. Contingent truths are of another 
nature. As they are mutable, they may be true 
at one time, and not at another : and therefore 
the exprefiion of them mull include fome point 
or period of time. 

If language had been a contrivance of Philo- 
fophers, they would probably have given fome 
flexion to the indicative mood of verbs, which 
extended to ail times paft, prefent, and future ; 
for fuch a flexion only would be fit to»exprefs 
neceffary proportions, which have no relation 
to time. But there is no language, as far as I 
know, in which fuch a flexion of verbs is to be 
found. Becaufe the thoughts and difcourfe of 
men are feldom employed about neceiTary truths, 
but commonly about fuch as are contingent ; 
languages are fitted to exprefs the laft rather 
than the fir it. 



The diftinclion commonly made between ab- 
ftracl: truths, and thofe that exprefs matters of 
fact, or real exiftences, coincides in a great mea- 
fure, but not altogether, with that between ne- 
ceflary and contingent truths. The neceflary 
truths that fall within our knowledge are for the 
moll part abftract truths. We mull except the 
exiltence and nature of the Supreme Being, 
which is neceflary. Other exiftences are the 
effects of will and power. They had a begin- 
ning, and are mutable. Their nature is fuch as 
the Supreme Being was pleafed to give them. 
Their attributes and relations mud depend upon 
the nature God has given them ; the powers 
with which he has endowed them ; and the li- 
tuation in which he hath placed them. 

The conclusions deduced be reafoning from 
iirft principles, will commonly be neceflary or 
contingent, according as the principles are from 
which they are drawn. On the one hand, I 
take it tG be certain, that whatever can, by juft 
reafoning, be inferred from a principle that is 
neceflary, mull be a neceflary truth, and that no 
contingent truth can be inferred from principles 
that are neceflary. 

Thus, as the axioms in mathematics are all 
neceflary truths ; fo are all the concluiions 
drawn from them ; that is, the whole body of 
that fcience. But from no .mathematical truth 

U 4 can 

* 3 12 ESSAY VI. [CHAP. 5. 

can we deduce the exigence of any thing ; not 
even of the objects of the fcience. 

On the other hand, I apprehend there are very- 
few cafes in which we can, from principles that 
are contingent, deduce truths that are neceffary. 
I can only recollect one inftanee of this" kind, 
namely, that, from the exiftence of things con- 
tingent and mutable, we can infer the exiftence 
of an immutable and eternal caufe of them. 

As the minds of men are occupied much more 
about truths that are contingent than about 
thole that are neceffary, I ihall firft endeavour 
to point out the principles of the former kind. 

1. Firji, then, I hold, as a firft principle, the 
exiftence of every thing of which I am confci- 

Confcioufnefs is an operation of the under- 
standing of its own kind, and cannot be logically 
defined. The objects of it are our prefent pains, 
our pleasures, our hopes, our fears, our deiires, 
our doubts, our thoughts of every kind ; in a 
word, all the paflions, and all the actions and 
operations of our own minds, while they are 
prefent. We may remember them when they 
are pail ; but we are confcious of them only 
while they are prefent. 

When a man is confcious of pain, he is cer- 
tain of its exiftence ; when he is confcious that 
he doubts, or believes, he is certain of the ex? 
iftence of thofe operations, 



But the irrefiftible conviction he has of the 
reality of thofe operations is not the effect of 
reafoning ; it is immediate and intuitive. The 
exiftence therefore of thofe paffions and opera- 
tions of our minds, of which we are confcious, 
is a firft principle, which Nature requires us to 
"believe upon her authority. 

If I am afked to prove that I cannot be de- 
ceived by confciou'fnefs j to prove that it is not 
a fallacious fenfe \ I can find no proof. I can- 
not find any antecedent truth from which it is 
deduced, or upon which its evidence depends. 
It feems to difdain any fuch derived authority,, 
and to claim my affent in its own right. 

If any man could be found fo frantic as to 
deny that he thinks, while he is confcious of it ; 
I may wonder, I may laugh, or I may pity him, 
but I cannot reafon the matter with him.. We 
have no common principles from which we 
may reafon, and therefore can never join iffue 
in an argument. 

This, I think, is the only principle of com- 
mon fenfe that has never directly been called in 
queftion. It feems to be fo firmly rooted in 
the minds of men, as to retain its authority with 
the greateft Sceptics. Mr Hume, after annihi- 
lating body and mind, time and fpace, action 
and caufation, and even his own mind, acknow- 
ledges the reality of the thoughts, fenfations and 
paffions of which he is confcious. 


314 essay vr. [chap. 5. 

No Philofopher has attempted by any hypo- 
thecs to account for this confcioufnefs of our 
own thoughts, and the certain knowledge of 
their real exiftence which accompanies it. By 
this they feem to acknowledge, that this at leaft 
is an original power of the mind ; a power by 
which we not only have ideas, but original judg- 
ments, and the knowledge of real exiftence. 

I cannot reconcile this immediate knowledge 
ftf the operations of our own minds with Mr 
Locke's theory, that all knowledge confifts 
in perceiving the agreement and difagreement 
of ideas. What are the ideas, from whofe com- 
parifon the knowledge of our own thoughts 
refults ? Or what are the agreements or difa- 
greements which convince a man that he is in 
pain when he feels it ? 

Neither can I reconcile it with Mr Hume's 
theory, that to believe the exiftence of any 
thing, is nothing elfe than to have a ftrong and 
lively conception of it ; or, at moft, that belief 
is only fome modification of the idea which is 
the object of belief. For not to mention, that 
propofitions, net ideas, are the object of belief; 
in all that variety of thoughts and paflions, of 
which we are confcious, we believe the exiftence 
of the weak as well as of the ftrong, the faint 
as well as the lively. No modification of the 
operations of our minds difpofes us to the leaft 
doubt of their real exiftence. 



As therefore the real exiftence of our thoughts, 
and of all the operations and feelings of our 
own minds, is believed by all men ; as we find 
ourfelves incapable of doubting it, and as in- 
capable of offering any proof of it, it may juft- 
ly be confidered as a firft principle, or did ate 
of common fenfe. 

But although this principle refts upon no 
other, a very considerable and important branch 
of human knowledge refts upon it. 

For from this fource of confcioufnefs is derived 
all that we know, and indeed all that we can 
know, of the ft.ruct.ure, and of the powers of our 
own minds ; from which we may conclude, 
that there is no branch of knowledge that Hands 
upon a firmer foundation ; for furely no kind of 
evidence can go beyond that of confcioufnefs. 

How does it come to pafs then, that in this 
branch of knowledge there are fo many and fo con- 
trary fyftems ? fo many fubtile controversies that 
are never brought to an iffue, and fo little fixed 
and determined? Is it poffible that Philofophers 
ihould differ moft where they have the fureft 
means of agreement ? where every thing is built 
upon a fpecies of evidence which all men ac- 
quiefce in, and hold to be the moll certain ?- 

This ftrange phsenomenon may, I think, be 
accounted for, if we diftinguiih between con- 
fcioufnefs and reflection, which are often im- 
properly confounded. 


316 ESSAY VI. [ghap. 5. 

The firft is common to all men at all times, 
but is iniufficient of rtfelf to give US' clear and 
diftinct notions of the operations of which we 
are confcious, and of their mutual relations, and 
minute diftinetions. The fecond, to wit, atten- 
tive reflection upon thofe operations, making 
them objects of thought, furveying them atten- 
tively, and examing them on all fides, is fo far 
from being common to all men, that it is the lot 
of very few. The greateft part of men, either 
through want of capacity, or from other caufes, 
never reflect attentively upon the operations of 
their own minds. The habit of this reflection, 
even in thofe whom Nature has fitted for it, is 
not to be attained without much pains and prac- 
tice. We can know nothing of the immediate 
objects of fight, but by the teftimony of our eyes ; 
and I apprehend, that if mankind had found as 
great difficulty in giving attention to the objects 
of fight, as they find in attentive reflection up- 
on the operations of their own minds, our know- 
ledge of the firft might have been in as backward 
a ftate as our knowledge of the laft. 

But this darknefs will not laft for ever. Light 
will arife upon this benighted part of the intel- 
lectual globe. When any man is fo happy as 
to delineate the powers of the human mind as 
they really are in nature, men that are free from 
prejudice, and capable of reflection, will recog- 
aife their own features in the picture ; and then 



the wonder will be, how things fo obvious could 
be fo long wrapped up in myftery and darknefs ; 
how men could be carried away by falfe theories 
and conjectures, when the truth was to be found 
in their own breafts if they had but attended to it. 

2. Another flrft principle, I think, is, That 
the thoughts of which I am confcious, are the 
thoughts of a being which 1 call myfelf, my mind, 
my per/on. 

The thoughts and feelings of' which we are 
confcious are continually changing, and the 
thought of this moment is not the thought of 
the laft ; but fomething which I call myfelf, re- 
mains under this change of thought. This felf 
has the fame relation to all the fuccefhve 
thoughts I am confcious of, they are all my 
thoughts ; and every thought which is not my 
thought, mult be the thought of fome other per- 

If any man afks a proof of this, I confefs I 
can give none; there is an evidence in the pro- 
pofition itfelf which I am unable to refill. Shall 
I think, that thought can ftand by itfelf without 
a thinking being? or that ideas can feel pleafure 
or pain? My nature dictates to me that it is im- 

And that Nature has di elated the fame to all 
men, appears from the ftructure of all languages : ■ 
For in all languages men have exprefTed think- 
ing, reafoning, willing, loving, hating, by per- 

318 essay vi. [chap. 5. 

fonal verbs, which from their nature require a 
perfon who thinks, reafons, wills, loves, or hates. 
From which it appears, that men have been 
taught by Nature to believe that thought re- 
quires a thinker, reafon a reafoner, and love a 

Here we muft leave Mr Hume, who conceives 
it to be a vulgar error, that belides the thoughts 
we are confcious of, there is a mind which is 
the fubjed of thofe thoughts. If the mind be 
any thing elfe than impreffions and ideas, it mull 
be a word without a meaning. The mind there- 
fore, according to this Philofopher, is a word 
which fignifies a bundle of perceptions ; or, 
when he defines it more accurately, " It is that 
" fucceffion of related ideas and impreffions, of 
" which we have an intimate memory and con- 
" fcioufnefs." 

I am, therefore, that fucceffion of related ideas 
and impreffions of which I have the intimate 
memory and confcioufnefs. 

But who is the / that has this memory and 
confcioufnefs of a fucceffion of ideas and im- 
preffions ? Why, it is nothing but that fucceffion 


Hence I learn, that this fucceffion of ideas 
and impreffions intimately remembers, and is 
confcious of itfelf. I would wifh to be further 
inftru&ed, whether the impreffions remember 
and are confcious of the ideas, or the ideas re- 


member and are confcious of the impreifions, or 
if both remember and are confcious of both ? 
and whether the ideas remember thofe that come 
after them, as well as thofe that were before 
them ? Thefe are queftions naturally ariiing 
from this fyftem, that have not yet been ex- 

This, however, is clear, that this fucceffion of 
ideas and impreffions, not only remembers and is 
confcious, but that it judges, reafons, affirms, de- 
nies ; nay, that it eats and drinks, and is fome- 
times merry, and fometimes fad. 

If thefe things can be afcribed to a fucceffion 
of ideas and impreffions, in a confiftency with 
common fenfe, I mould be very glad to know 
what is nonfenfe. 

The fcholaftic Philofophers have been wittily 
ridiculed, by reprefenting them as difputing up- 
on this queftion, Num chimcera bombinans in va- 
cuo pojfit comedere fecundas intentiones P and I 
believe the wit of man cannot invent a more ri- 
diculous queftion. But, if Mr Hume's philo- 
fophy be admitted, this queftion deierves to be 
treated more gravely : For if, as we learn from 
this philofophy, a fucceffion of ideas and impref- 
fions, may eat, and drink, and be merry, I fee no 
good reafon why a chimera, which if not the 
fame, is of kin to an idea, may not chew the 
cud upon that kind c f food, which the fchool- 
men call fccond intentions. 

3, Another 

32© ESSAY VI. [CHAP. 5. 

3. Another firft principle I take to be, That 
thofe things did really happen which I diftinct- 
ly remember. 

This has one of the fureft marks of a firft 
principle ; for no man ever pretended to prove it, 
and yet no man in his wits calls it in queflion : 
the teftimony of memory, like that of confci- 
oufnefs, is immediate ; it claims our affent upon 
its own authority. 

Suppofe that a learned counfel, in defence of 
a client againft the concurring teftimony of wit- 
nefles of credit, mould infill upon a new topic 
to invalidate the teftimony. " Admitting," fays 
he, " the integrity of the witneffes, and that 
they diftinctly remember what they have gi- 
ven in evidence ; it does not follow that the 
prifoner is guilty. It has never been proved 
that the molt diftinct memory may not be fal- 
lacious. Shew me any neceffary connection 
between that act of the mind which we call 
memory, and the paft exiftence of the event 
remembered. No man has ever offered a fha- 
dow of argument to prove fuch a connection ; 
yet this is one link of the chain of proof againft 
the prifoner ; and if it have no ftrength, the 
whole proof falls to the ground : Until this, 
therefore, be made evident, until it can be 
proved, that we may fafely reft upon the tefti- 
mony of memory for the truth of paft events, 

M no 


" no judge or jury can juflly take away the life 
" of a citizen upon fo doubtful a point." 

I believe we may take it for granted, that this 
argument from a learned counfel would have no 
other effecl upon the judge or jury, than to con- 
vince them that he was difordered in his judg- 
ment. Counfel is allowed to plead every thing 
for a client that is fit to perfuade or to move ; 
yet I believe no counfel ever had the boldnefs to 
plead this topic. And for what reafon ? For no 
other reafon, furely, but becaufe it is abfurd. 
Now, what is abfurd at the bar, is fo in the Phi- 
ioiopher's chair. What would be ridiculous, if 
delivered to a jury of honeft fenfible citizens, is 
no lefs fo when delivered gravely in a philofo- 
phical differtation. 

Mr Hume has not, as far as I remember, di° 
redly called in queftion the teftimony of me- 
mory ; but he has laid down the premifes by 
which its authority is overturned, leaving it to 
his reader to draw the conclufion. 

He labours to fhew, that the belief or aflent 
which always attends the memory and fenfes is 
nothing but the vivacity of thofe perceptions 
which they prelent. He fhevvs very clearly, 
that this vivacity gives no ground to believe the 
exiftence of external objects. And it is obvious^ 
that it can give as little ground to believe the 
paft exiftence of the objects of memory. 

Vol. II. X Indeed 

322 ESSAY VI. [CHAP. £. 

Indeed the theory concerning ideas, fo gene- 
rally received by Philofophers, deftroys all the 
authority of memory, as well as the authority 
of the fenfes. Des Cartes, Malesranche, 
and Locke, were aware that this theory made it 
neceffary for them to find out arguments to 
prove the exiftence of external objects, which 
the vulgar believe upon the bare authority of 
their fenfes ; but thofe Philofophers were not 
aware, that this theory made it equally necef- 
fary for them to find arguments to prove the ex- 
iftence of things paft, which we remember, and 
to fupport the authority of memory. 

All the arguments they advanced to fupport 
the authority of our fenfes, were eafily refuted 
by Bifhop Berkeley and Mr Hume, being in- 
deed very weak and inconcluiive. And it would 
have been as eafy to anfvver every argument they 
could have brought, confident with their theory, 
to fupport the authority of memory. 

For, according to that theory ? the immediate 
objed of memory, as well as of every other ope- 
ration of the underftanding, is an idea prefent in 
the mind. And, from the prefent exiftence of 
this idea of memory I am left to infer, by rea- 
foning, that fix months, or fix years ago, there- 
did exiit an objecl fimilar to this idea. 

But what is there in the idea that can lead 
me to this conclulion ? What mark does it bear 
of the date of its archetype ? Or what evidence 



have I that it had an archetype, and that it is not 
the firft of its kind ? 

Perhaps it will be faid, that this idea or image 
in the mind mull have had a caufe. 

I admit, that if there is fuch an image in the 
mind it mufl have had a caufe, and a caufe able 
to produce the efFect ;• but what can we infer 
from its having a caufe ? Does it follow that the 
effect, is a type, an image, a copy of its caufe ? 
Then it will follow, that a pidture is an image 
of the painter, and a coach of the coachmaker. 

A paft event may be known by reafoning, but 
that is not remembering it. When I remember 
a thing diftin&ly, I difdain equally to hear rea- 
fons for it or againft k. And fo I think does 
every man in his fenfes. 

4. Another firft principle is our own perfonai 
identity and continued exiftence, as far back as 
we remember any thing diftinc~tly. 

This we know immediately, and not by rea- 
foning. It feems, indeed, to be a part of the 
teftimony of memory. Every thing we remem- 
ber has fuch a relation to ourfelves, as to imply 
necerTarily our exiftence at the time remembered,, 
And there cannot be a more palpable abfurdity 
than that a man ihould remember what happen- 
ed before he exilted. He mull therefore have 
exifled as far back as he remembers any thing 
diflinctly, if his memory be not fallacious This 
principle, therefore, is fo connected with the 
X 2 laft 

324 ESSAY VI. [CHAP. 5. 

laft mentioned, that it may be doubtful whether 
both ought not to be included in one. Let every 
one judge of this as he fees reafon. The proper 
notion of identity, and the fentiments of Mr 
Locke on this fubjecl, have been confidered be- 
fore under the head of memory. 

5. Another firft principle is, That thofe things 
do really exift which we diftin&ly perceive by 
our fenfes, and are what we perceive them to 

It is too evident to need proof, that all men 
are by nature led to give implicit faith to the 
diftinct teftimony of their fenfes, long before 
they are capable of any bias from prejudices of 
education or of Philofophy. 

How came we at firft to know that there are 
certain beings about us whom we call father, 
and mother, and lifters, and brothers, and nurfe ? 
Was it not by the teftimony of our fenfes ? How 
did thefe perfons convey to us any information 
or inftrudion ? Was it not by means of our 
fenfes ? 

It is evident we can have no communication, 
no correfpondence or fociety with any created 
being, but by means of our fenfes. And until 
we rely upon their teftimony, we muft confider 
ourfelves as being alone in the univerfe, without 
any fellow-creature, living or inanimate, and be 
left to converfe with our own thoughts. 



Bifhop Berkeley furely did not duly confi- 
der, that it is by means of the material world 
that we have any correfpondence with thinking 
beings, or any knowledge of their exiftence, and 
that by depriving us of the material world, he 
deprived us at the fame time of family, friends, 
country, and every human creature ; of every 
objecl of affeclion, efteem or concern, except 

The good Bifhop furely never intended this. 
He was too warm a friend, too zealous a patriot, 
and too good a Chriftian, to be capable of fucU 
a thought. He ,was not aware of the confe- 
quences of his fyftem, and therefore they ought 
not to be imputed to him \ but we muft impute 
them to the fyftem itfelf. It ftifles every gene- 
rous and focial principle. 

When I conlider myfelf as fpeaking to men 
who hear me, and can judge of what I fay, I 
feel that refped: which is due to fuch an audi- 
ence. I feel an enjoyment in a reciprocal com- 
munication of fentiments with candid and inge- 
nious friends, and my foul bleffes the Author of 
my being, who has made me capable of this 
manly and rational entertainment. 

But the Bifhop fhews me, that this is all a 
dream ; that I fee not a human face ; that all 
the obje&s I fee, and hear, and handle, are only 
the ideas of my own mind ; ideas are my only 
companions. Cold company, indeed ! Every 
focial affe&ion freezes at the thought .' 

X 3 But, 

326 ESSAY VI. [CHAP. 5. 

But, my Lord Bifhop, are there no minds left 
in the univerfe but my own ? 

Yes, indeed ; it is only the material world 
that is annihilated ; every thing elfe remains as 
it was. 

This feems to promife fome comfort in my 
forlorn folitude. But do I fee thofe minds ? No. 
X>o I fee their ideas ? No. Nor do they fee me 
or my ideas. They are then no more to me than 
the inhabitants of Solomon's ifles, or of the 
moon ; and my melancholy folitude returns. 
Every focial tie is broken, and every focial affec- 
tion is ftirled. 

This difmal fyftem, which, if it could be belie- 
ved, would deprive men of every focial comfort, 
a very good Bifhop, by Uriel and accurate rea- 
foning, deduced from the principles commonly 
received by Philofophers concerning ideas. The 
fault is not in the reafoning, but in the principles 
from which it is drawn. 

Al: the arguments urged by Berkeley and 
Hume againil the exiftence of a material world 
are grounded upon this principle, That we do 
not perceive external objects themfelves, but 
certain images or ideas in our own minds. But 
this is no dictate of common fenfe, but direclly 
contrary to the fenfe of all who have not been 
taught it by philofophy. S 

We have before examined the reafons given 
by Philofophers ? to prove that ideas, and not ex- 


ternal objects, are the immediate objects of per- 
ception, and the inftances given to prove the 
fenfes fallacious. Without repeating what has 
before been faid uponthofe points, we fnall only 
here obferve, that if external objects be per- 
ceived immediately, we have the fame rcafon to 
believe their exiftence as Philofophers have to 
believe the exiftence of ideas, while they hold 
them to be the immediate objects of perception. 
6. Another firft principle, I think, is, That 
we have fome degree of power over our actions, 
and the determinations of our will. 

All power mult be derived from the fountain 
of power, and of every good gift. Upon his 
good pleafure its continuance depends, and it is 
always fubject to his control. 

Beings to whom God has given any degree 
of power, and underftanding to direct them 
to the proper ufe of it, muft be accountable 
to their Maker. But thofe who are intrufted 
with no power, can have no account to make ; 
for all good conduct confifts in the right ufe of 
power ; all bad conduct in the abufe of it. 

To call to account a being who never was in- 
trufted with any degree of power, is an abfurdity 
no lefs than it would be to call .to an account 
an inanimate being* We are fare, therefore, 
if we have any account to make to the Author 
of our being, that we muft have fome degree of 
power, which, as far as it is properly ufed, en- 
X 4 titles 

328 ESSAY VI. [CHAP. 5. 

titles us to his approbation ; and, when abufed, 
renders us obnoxious to his difpleafure. 

It is not eafy to fay in what way we firft get 
the notion or idea of power. It is neither an 
object of fenfe nor of confcioufnefs. We fee 
events, one fncceeding another ; but we fee not 
the power by which they are produced. We 
are confcious of the operations of our minds ; 
but power is not an operation of mind. If we 
had no notions but fuch as are furnifhed by the 
external fenfes, and by confcioufnefs, it feems 
to be impoffible that we mould ever have any 
conception of power. Accordingly, Mr Hume, 
who has reafoned the molt accurately upon this 
hypothecs, denies that we have any idea of 
power, and clearly refutes the account given by 
Mr Locke of the origin of this idea. 

But it is in vain to reafon from a hypothefis 
againft a fact, the truth of which every man 
may fee by attending to his own thoughts. It 
is evident, that all men, very early in life, not 
only have an idea of power, but a conviction 
that they have fome degree of it in themfelves : 
For this conviction is necelTarily implied in many 
operations of mind, which are familiar to every 
man, and without which no man can act the part 
of a reafonable being. 

Firjl, It is implied in every act of volition. 
44 Volition, it is plain, fays Mr Locke, is an act 
s< of the mind, knowingly exerting that domi-^ 

* nion 


" nion which it takes itfelf to have over any 
" part of the man, by employing it in, or with- 
" holding it from any particular action." Eve- 
ry volition therefore implies a conviction of 
power to do the action willed. A man may de- 
fire to make a vifit to the moon, or to the planet 
Jupiter ; but nothing but infanity could make 
him will to do fo. And if even infanity produ- 
ced this effect, it muft be by making him think 
it to be in his power. 

Secondly, This conviction is implied in all de- 
liberation ; for no man in his wits Deliberates 
whether he fhall do what he believes not to 
be in his power. Thirdly, The fame conviction 
is implied in every refolution or purpofe formed 
in confequence of deliberation. A man may as 
well form a refolution to pull the moon out of 
her fphere, as to do the mod infignilicant action 
which he believes not to be in his power. The 
fame thing may be faid of every promife or con- 
tract wherein a man plights his faith ; for he is 
not an honeft man who promifes what he does 
not believe he has power to perform. 

As thefe operations imply a belief of fome de- 
gree of power in ourfelves ; fo there are others 
equally common and familiar, which imply a 
like belief with regard to others. 

When we impute to a man any action or omif- 
fion, as a ground of approbation or of blame, we 
muft believe he had power to do otherwife. The 


330 essay vi. [chap. 5. 

fame is implied in all advice, exhortation, com- 
mand, and rebuke, and in every cafe in which 
we rely upon his fidelity in performing any en- 
gagement, or executing any truft. 

It is not more evident that mankind have a 
conviction of the exiftence of a material world, 
than that they have the conviction of fome de- 
cree of power in themfelves, and in others ; eve- 
ry one over his own actions, and the determina- 
tions of his will : A conviction fo early, fo gene- 
ral, and fo interwoven with the whole of human 
condud, that it mull be the natural effed of our 
conftitution, and intended by the Author of our 
being to guide our adions. 

It refembles our conviction of the exiftence of 
a material world in this refped alfo, that even 
thofe who rejed it in fpeculation, find themfelves 
under a neceffity of being governed by it in their 
pradice ; and thus it will always happen when 
philofophy contradids firft principles. 

7. Another firft principle is, That the natural 
faculties, by which we diftinguifh truth from 
error, are not fallacious. If any man ihould de- 
mand a proof of this, it is impoffible to fatisfy 
him. For fuppofe it fhould be mathematically 
demonftrated, this would fignify nothing in this 
cafe ; becaufe, to judge of a demonftration, a 
man muft truft his faculties, and take for grant- 
ed the very thing in queftion. 


If a man's honefty were called in queftion, it 
would be ridiculous to refer it to the man's 
own word, whether he be honed or not. The 
fame abfurdity there is in attempting to prove, 
by any kind of reafoning, probable or demon- 
ftrative, that our reafon is not fallacious, fince 
the very point in queftion is, whether reafoning 
may be trufted. 

If a Sceptic fhould build his fcepticifm upon 
this foundation, that all our reafoning and judg- 
ing powers are fallacious in their nature, or 
fhould refolve at leaft to with-hold affent until it 
be proved that they are not ; it would be impof- 
fible by argument to beat him out of this ftrong 
hold, and he mull even be left to enjoy his 

Des Cartes certainly made a falfe ftep in 
this matter ; for having fuggefled this doubt 
among others, that whatever evidence he might 
have from his confcioufnefs, his fenfes, his me- 
mory, or his reafon ; yet poffibly fome malig- 
nant being had given him thofe faculties on pur- 
pofe to impofe upon him ; and therefore, that 
they are not to be trufted without a proper 
voucher : To remove this doubt, he endeavours 
to prove the being of a Deity who is no decei- 
ver ; whence he concludes, that the faculties he 
had given him are true and worthy to be trufted. 

It is ftrange that fo acute a reafoner did not 
perceive, that in this reafoning there is evident- 
ly a begging of the queftion. 


33 2 E S S A Y vi. [chap. 5. 

For if our faculties be fallacious, why may 
they not deceive us in this reafoning as well as 
in others? And if they are to be trufled in 
this inftance without a voucher, why not in 
others ? 

Every kind of reafoning for the veracity of 
our faculties, amounts to no more than taking 
their own teftimony for their veracity ; and this 
we muft do implicitly, until God give us new 
faculties to fit in judgment upon the old ; and 
the reafon why Des Cartes fatisfied himfelf 
with fo weak an argument for the truth of his 
faculties, moft probably was, that he never fe- 
rioufly doubted of it. 

If any truth can be faid to be prior to all o- 
thers in the order of nature, this feems to have 
the belt claim ; becaufe in every inftance of af- 
fent, whether upon intuitive, demonftrative, or 
probable evidence, the truth of our faculties 
is taken for granted, and is, as it were, one of 
the premifes on which our affent is grounded. 

How then come we to be aflured of this fun- 
damental truth on which all others reft ? Per- 
haps evidence, as in many other refpects it re- 
fembles light, fo in this alfo, that as light, which 
is the difcoverer of all vifible objects, difcovers 
itfelf at the fame time ; fo evidence, which is 
the voucher *for all truth, vouches for itfelf at 
the fame time. 



This, however, is certain, that fuch is the 
constitution of the human mind, that evidence 
difcerned by us, forces a correfponding degree 
of affent. And a man who perfectly underftood 
a juft fyllogifm, without believing that the con- 
clufion follows from the premifes, would be a 
greater monfter than a man born without hands 
or feet. 

We are born under a neceffity of trufling to 
our reafoning and judging powers ; and a real 
belief of their being fallacious cannot be main- 
tained for any confiderable time by the greateft 
Sceptic, becaufe it is doing violence to our con- 
ftitution. It is like a man's walking upon his 
hands, a feat which fome men upon occalion can 
exhibit ; but no man ever made a long journey 
in this manner. Ceafe to admire his dexterity, 
and he will, like other men, betake himfelf to 
his legs. 

We may here take notice of a property of the 
principle under conlideration, that feems to be 
common to it with many other firft principles, 
and which can hardly be found in any principle 
that is built folely upon reafoning ; and that is, 
that in moil men it produces its effecT: without 
ever being attended to, or made an object of 
thought. No man ever thinks of this principle, 
unlefs when he conliders the grounds of fcepti- 
cifm ; yet it invariably governs his opinions. 
When a man in the common courfe of life gives 


334 essay vi. [chap. g. 

credit to the teftimony of his fenfes, his memo- 
ry, or his reafon, he does not put the queftion 
to himfelf, whether thefe faculties may deceive 
him ; yet the truft he repofes in them fuppofes an 
inward conviction, that, in that inftance at leaft, 
they do not deceive him* 

It is another property of this and of many firfl 
principles, that they force affent in particular in- 
flances, more powerfully than when they are 
turned into a general proportion. Many Sceptics 
have denied every general principle of fcience, 
excepting perhaps the exiilence of our prefent 
thoughts ; yet thefe men reafon, and refute, and 
prove, they alTent and dilfent in particular cafes. 
They ufe reafoning to overturn all reafoning, 
and judge that they ought to have no judgment, 
and fee clearly that they are blind. Many have 
in general maintained that the fenfes are fallaci- 
ous, yet there never was found a man fo fcepti- 
cal as not to truft his fenfes in particular in- 
ftances when his fafety required it ; and it may 
be obferved of thofe who have profeffed fcepti- 
cifm, that their fcepticifm lies in generals, while 
in particulars they are no lefs dogmatical than 

8. Another flrft principle relating to exiilence, 
is, That there is life and intelligence in our fel- 
low-men with whom we converfe. 

As foon as children are capable of -afking a 
queftion, or of anfwering a queftion, as foon as 



they fliew the ligns of love, of refentment, or of 
any other affection, they mull be convinced, that 
thofe with whom they have this intercourfe are 
intelligent beings. 

It is evident they are capable of fuch inter- 
courfe long before they can reafon. Every one 
knows, that there is a focial intercourfe between 
the nurfe and the child before it is a year old. 
It can, at that age, underftand many things that 
are faid to it. 

It can by iigns afk and refufe, threaten and 
fupplicate. It clings to its nurfe in danger, en- 
ters into her grief and joy, is happy in her footh- 
ing and careffes, and unhappy in her difplea- 
fure : That thefe things cannot be without a con- 
viction in the child that the nurfe is an intelli- 
gent being, I think muft be granted. 

Now I would afk how a child of a year old 
comes by this conviction ? Not by reafoning 
furely, for children do not reafon at that age. 
Nor is it by external fenfes, for life and intelli- 
gence are not objects of the external fenfes. 

By what means, or upon what occafions Nature 
firft gives this information to the infant mind, is 
not eafy to determine. We are not capable of 
reflecting upon our own thoughts at that period 
of life, and before we attain this capacity, we 
have quite forgot how or on what occalion we 
firft had this belief; we perceive it in thofe who 
are born blind, and in others who are born deaf; 


336 ESSAY VI. [CHAP. 5. 

and therefore Nature has not connected it folely 
either with any object of fight, or with any ob- 
ject of hearing. When we grow up to the 
years of reafon and reflection, this belief re- 
mains. No man thinks of afking himfelf what 
reafon he has to believe that his neighbour is a 
living creature. He would be not a little fur- 
prifed if another perfon mould afk him fo ab- 
furd a queftion ; and perhaps could not give 
any reafon which would not equally prove a 
watch or a puppet to be a living creature. 

But, though you mould fatisfy him of the 
weaknefs of the reafon s he gives for his belief, 
you cannot make him in the leaft doubtful. This 
belief Hands upon another foundation than that 
of reafoning ; and therefore, whether a man can 
give good reafons for it or not, it is not in his 
power to make it off. 

Setting allde this natural conviction, I believe 
the beft reafon we can give, to prove that other 
men are living and intelligent, is, that their 
words and actions indicate like powers of un- 
derftanding as we are confcious of in ourfelves. 
The very fame argument applied to the works 
of nature, leads us to conclude, that there is 
an intelligent Author of nature, and appears 
equally Itrong and obvious in the laft cafe as in 
the nrft ; fo that it may be doubted whether 
men, by the mere exercife of reafoning, might 



not as foon difcover the exiftence of a Deity, as 
that other men have life and intelligence. 

The knowledge of the laft is abfolutely ne- 
cefiary to our receiving any improvement by 
means of inftruction and example ; and, with- 
out thefe means of improvement, there is no 
ground to think that we mould ever be able to 
acquire the ufe of our reafoning powers. This 
knowledge, therefore, mult be antecedent to rea= 
foning, and therefore mull be a firit principle. 

It cannot be faid, that the judgments we form 
concerning life and intelligence in other beings 
are at firft free from error : But the errors of 
children in this matter lie on the fafe fide ; they 
are prone to attribute intelligence to things in- 
animate. Thefe errors are of fmall confequence, 
and are gradually corrected by experience and 
ripe judgment. But. the belief of life and in- 
telligence in other men, is abfolutely necefiary 
for us before we are capable of reafoning ; and 
therefore the Author of our being hath given us 
this belief antecedently to all reafoning. 

9. Another firft principle I take to be, That 
certain features of the countenance, founds of 
the voice, and geflures of the body, indicate cer- 
tain thoughts and difpofitions of mind. 

That many operations of the mind have their 
natural figns in the countenance, voice, and gef- 
ture, I fuppofe every man will admit. Qmnis 
enim motus animi, fays Cicero, fuum quemdam 

Vol. II, Y babct 

338 ESSAY vr. [chap. 5. 

habet a natura vultum, et voccm et geflum. The 
only queftion is, whether we underftand the fig- 
nification of thofe figns, by the conftitution of 
our nature, by a kind of natural perception fi- 
milar to the perceptions of fenfe ; or whether 
we gradually learn the fignification of fuch figns 
from experience, as we learn that fmoke is a 
fign of fire, or that the freezing of water is a 
fign of cold ? I take the firft to be the truth. 

It feems to me incredible, that the notions 
men have of the expreffion of features, voice, 
and gefture, are entirely the fruit of experience* 
Children, almoft as foon as born, may be fright- 
ed, and thrown into fits by a threatening or an- 
gry tone of voice. I knew a man who could 
make an infant cry, by whittling a melancholy 
tune in the fame or in the next room ; and 
again, by altering his key, and the ftrain of his 
mufic, could make the child leap and dance for 

it is not by experience furely that we learn 

the expreffion of mufic \ for its operation is 
commonly ftrongeft the firft time we hear it. 
One air expreffes mirth and fellivity \ fo that, 
when we hear it, it is with difficulty we can for- 
bear to dance. Another is forrowful and folemn. 
One infpires with tendernefs and love ^ another 
with rage and fury. 



Hear how Timotheus' vary'd lays furprife, 
And bid alternate paflions fall and rife ; 
While at each change, the fon of Lybian Jove . 
Now burns with glory, and then melts with love. 
Now his fierce eyes with fparkling fury glow, 
Now iighs fteal out, and tears begin to flow. 
Periians and Greeks, like turns of Nature, found, 
And the world's victor flood fubdu'd by found. 

It is not neceffary that a man have ftudied 
cither mufic or the paflions, in order to his feel- 
ing thefe effects. The moll ignorant and unim- 
proved, to whom Nature has given a good ear, 
feel them as ftrongly as the molt knowing. 

The countenance and gefture have an expref- 
lion no lefs Itrong and natural than the voice. 
The flrft time one fees a ftern and fierce look, a 
contracted brow, and a menacing pofture, he 
concludes that the perfon is inflamed with anger. 
Shall we fay, that, previous to experience, the 
molt hoftile countenance has as agreeable an ap- 
pearance as the molt gentle and benign ? This 
furely would contradict all experience \ for we 
know that an angry countenance will fright a 
child in the cradle. Who has not obferved, that 
children, very early, are able to diitinguiih what 
is faid to them in jeft from what is laid in eaf- 
neft, by the tone of the voice, and the features 
of the face? They judge by thefe natural figns, 
even when they feem to contradict the arti- 

Y a If 

340 ESSAY vi. [chap, 5, 

If it were by experience that we learn the 
meaning of features, and found, and gefture, it 
might be expeded that we mould recoiled the 
time when we firft learned thofe lefibns, or, at 

lead, fome of fuch a multitude, 

Thofe who give attention to the operations of 
children, can eafily difcover the time when they 
have their earlieft notices from experience, fuch 
as that feme will burn, or that knives will cut. 
But no man is able to recoiled in himfelf, or to 
obferve in others, the time when the expremcn 
of the face, voice, and gefture^ were learned. 

Nay, I apprehend that it is impoffible that 
this mould be learned from experience. 

When we fee the fign, and fee the thing figni- 
fied always conjoined with it, experience may 
be the inftructor, and teach us how that fign is 
to be interpreted. But how mall experience in- 
ftruct us when we fee the fign only, when the 
thing fignmed is- inviiible? Now this is the cafe 
here \ the thoughts and paffions of the mind, as 
well as the mind itfelf, are invifible, and there- 
fore their connection with any fenfible fign can- 
not be firft difcovered by experience; there 
muft be fome earlier fource of this knowledge. 

Nature feems to have given to men a faculty 
or fenfe, by which this connexion is perceived. 
And the operation of this fenfe is very analo- 
gous to that of the external fenfes. 



When I grafp an ivory ball in my hand, I feel 
a certain fenfation of touch. In the fenfation, 
there is nothing external, nothing corporeal. 
The fenfation is neither round nor hard ; it is an 
acl: or feeling of the mind, from which I cannot, 
by reafoning, infer the exiftence of any body. 
But, by the conftitution of my nature, the fen- 
fation carries along with it the conception and 
belief of a round hard body really exifting in 
my hand. 

In like manner, when I fee the features of an 
expreffive face, I fee only figure and colour va- 
rioufly modified. But, by the conftitution of 
ray nature, the vifible object, brings along with 
it the conception and belief of a certain paffion 
or fentiment in the mind of the perfon. 

In the former cafe, a fenfation of touch is the 
fign, and the hardnefs and roundnefs of the bo- 
dy I grafp is fignified by that fenfation. In the 
* latter cafe, the features of the perfon is the fign, 
and the paffion or fentiment is fignified by it. 

The power of natural figns, to fignify the fen- 
timents and pafiions of the mind, is feeti in the 
figns of dumb perfons, who can make themfelves 
to be underftood in a confiderable degree, even 
by thofe who are wholly unexperienced in that 

It is feen in the traffic which has been fre- 
quently carried on between people that have no 
common acquired language. They can buy and 
Y 3 fell, 

342 ESSAY VI. [CHAP. 5. 

fell, and afk and refufe, and fhew a friendly or 
hoftile difpofition by natural figns. 

It was ieen ftill more in the actors among the 
ancients who performed the gefliculation upon 
the ftage, while others recited the words. Tq 
fuch a pitch was this art carried, that we are 
told Cicero and Roscius ufed to contend whe- 
ther the orator could exprefs any thing by words, 
which the actor could not exprefs in dumb fhow 
by gesticulation ; and whether the fame fentence 
or thought could not be acted in all the variety 
of ways in which the orator could exprefs it in 

But the molt furprifing exhibition of this kind, 
was that of the pantomimes among the Romans, 
who acted plays, or fcenes of plays, without any 
recitation, and yet could be perfectly under- 

And here it deferves our notice, that although 
it required much fludy and practice in the pan- 
tomimes to excel in their art ; yet it required 
neither ftudy nor practice in the fpectators to un- 
derftand them. It was a natural language, and 
therefore underftood by all men, whether Ro- 
mans, Greeks, or Barbarians, by the learned and 
the unlearned. 

Luc ian relates, that a King, whofe dominions 
bordered upon the Euxine fea, happening to be 
at Rome in the reign of Nero, and having fern 
I pantomime act, begged him of Nero that he 



might ufe him in his intercourfe with all the na- 
tions in his neighbourhood : For, faid he, I am 
obliged to employ I don't know how many in- 
terpreters, in order to keep a correfpondence 
with neighbours who fpeak many languages, and 
do not underftand mine ; but this fellow will 
make them all underftand him. 

For thefe reafons, I conceive, it muft be grant- 
ed, not only that there is a connection eftablifh- 
ed by Nature between certain ftgns in the coun- 
tenance, voice, and gefture, and the thoughts 
and paffions of the mind ; but alfo, that, by our 
constitution, we underftand the meaning of thofe 
figns, and from the fign conclude the exiftence 
of the thing fignified. 

10. Another firft principle appears to me to 
be, That there is a certain regard due to human 
teftimony in matters of fact, and even to human 
authority in matters of opinion. 

Before we are capable of reaibning about tef- 
timony or. authority, there are many things 
which it concerns us to know, for which we can 
have no other evidence. The wife Author of 
nature hath planted in the human mind a pro- 
peniity to rely upon this evidence before we can 
give a reafon for doing fo. This, indeed, puts 
our judgment almoft entirely in the power of 
thofe who are about us, in the firft period of life ; 
but this is neceflary both to our prefervation and 
to our improvement. If children were fo fram- 
Y 4 ed 9 

344 essay vi* [chap. 5. 

ed, as to pay no regard to teftimony or to au- 
thority, they muft, in the literal fenfe, perifh for 
lack of knowledge. It is not more necefiary 
that they mould be fed before they can feed 
themfelves, than that they mould be inftructed 
in many things, before they can difcover them 
by their own judgment. 

But when our faculties ripen, we find reafon 
to check that propenfity to yield to teftimony 
and to authority, which was fo necefiary and fo 
natural. in the firft period of life. We learn to 
reafon about the regard due to them, and fee it 
to be a childifh weaknefs to lay more ftrefs upon 
them than reafon juftifies. Yet, I believe, to the 
end of life, moll men are more apt to go into this 
extreme than into the contrary ; and the natu- 
ral propenfity ftill retains fome force. 

The natural principles, by which our judg- 
ments and opinions are regulated before we come 
to the ufe of reafon, feem to be no lefs neceifary 
to fuch a being as man, than thofe natural in^ 
ftincts which the Author of nature hath given us 
to regulate our actions during that period.,^ 

11. There are many events depending upon 
the will of man, in which there is a felf-evident 
probability, greater or lefs, according to circurn- 

There may be in. fome individuals fuch a de- 
gree of phrenzy and madnefs, that no man can 
fay what they may or may not do. Such per- 


fons we find it _ neceffary to put under reftraint, 
that, as far as poffible, they may be kept from 
doing harm to themfelves or to others. They 
are not fconfidered as reafonable creatures, or 
members of fociety. But, as to men who have 
a found mind, we depend upon a certain degree 
of regularity in their conduct ; and could put a 
thoufand different cafes, wherein we could ven- 
ture, ten to one, that they will act in fuch a way, 
and not in the contrary. 

If we had no confidence in our fellow men 
that they will act fuch a part in fuch circumftan- 
ces, it would be impoffible to live in fociety with 
them: For that which makes men capable of li- 
ving in fociety, and uniting in a political body 
under government, is, that their actions will al- 
ways be regulated in a great meafure by the 
common principles of human nature. 

It may always be expected, that they will re- 
gard their own intereft and reputation, and that 
of their families and friends ; that they will repel 
injuries, and have fome fenfe of good offices ; 
and that they will have fome regard to truth and 
juflice, fo far at leafl as not to fwerve from them 
without temptation. 

It is upon fuch principles as thefe, that all po- 
litical reafoning is grounded. Such reafoning 
is never demonftrative ; but it may have a very 
great degree of probability, efpecially when ap- 
plied to great bodies of men. 

12. The 

346 essay Vi. [chap. 5. 

12. The laft principle of contingent truths I 
mention, is, That, in the phenomena of nature, 
what is to be, will probably be like to what has 
been in fimilar circumftances. 

We mull have this conviction as foon as we 
are capable of learning any thing from experi- 
ence ; for all experience is grounded upon a be- 
lief that the future will be like the pad. Take 
away this principle, and the experience of an 
hundred years makes us no wifer with regard to 
what is to come. 

This is one of thofe principles, which, when 
We grow up and obferve the courfe of nature, we 
can confirm by reafoning. We perceive that 
nature is governed by fixed laws, and that if it 
were not fo, there could be no fuch thing as pru- 
dence in human conduct ; there would be no 
fitnefs in any means to promote an end ; and 
what, on one occafion, promoted it, might as 
probably, on another occalion, obftruct it. 

But the principle is necefiary for us before we 
are able to difcover it by reafoning, and there- 
fore is made a part of our conftitution, and pro- 
duces its effects before the ufe of reafon. 

This principle remains in all its force when 
we come to the ufe of reafon ; but we learn to 
be more cautious in the application of it. We 
obferve more carefully the circumftances on 
which the pall event depended, and learn to di- 



ftinguifh them from thofe which were acciden- 
tally conjoined with it. 

In order to this, a number of experiments, 
varied in their circumftances, is often neceflary. 
Sometimes a lingle experiment is thought fuffi- 
cient to eftablifh a general conclufion. Thus, 
when it was once found, that in a certain degree 
of cold, quickfilver became a hard and malle- 
able metal, there was good reafon to think, that 
the fame degree of cold will always produce this 
effect to the end of the world. 

I need hardly mention, that the whole fabric 
of natural philofophy is built upon this prin- 
ciple, and, if it be taken away, mull tumble down 
to the foundation. 

Therefore the great Newton lays it down as 
an axiom, or as one of his laws of philofophifing, 
in thefe words, Effettuum naturalium ejufdem ge- 
neris eafdem ejfe caufas. This is what every 
man affents to as foon as he underftands it, and 
no man afks a reafon for it. It has therefore the 
moft genuine marks of a firft principle. 

It is very remarkable, that although all our 
expectation of what is to happen in the courfe of 
nature is derived from the belief of this principle, 
yet no man thinks of alking what is the ground 
of this belief. 

Mr Hume, I think, was the firft who put this 
queftion ; and he has fhewn clearly and invin- 
cibly, that it is neither grounded upon reafoning, 


34 8 essay vr. [chap. 5. 

nor has that kind of intuitive evidence which 
mathematical axioms have. It is not a neceflary 

He has endeavoured to account for it upon 
his own principles. It is not my bufinefs at pre- 
fent to examine the account he has given of this 
univerfai belief of mankind ; becaufe, whether 
his account of it be juft or not, (and I think it 
is not), yet, as this belief is univerfai among 
mankind, and is not grounded upon any antece- 
dent reafoning, but upon the conftitution of the 
mind itfelf, it mufl be acknowledged to be a firft, 
principle, in the fenfe in which I ufe that word. 

I do not at all affirm, that thofe I have men- 
tioned are all the firft principles from which we 
may reafon concerning contingent truths. Such 
enumerations, even when made after much re- 
flection, are feldom perfect. 


Firjl Principles of neceffary Truths, 

ABOUT mod of the firfl principles of ne- 
ceflary truths there has been no difpute, 
and therefore it is the lefs neceflary to dwell 
upon them. It will be fufficient to divide them 
into different clafles ; to mention fome, by way 
of fpecimen, in each clafs ; and to make fome 



remarks on thofe of which the truth has been 
called in queftion. 

They may, I think, moft properly be divided 
according to the fciences to which the^y be- 

1 . There are fome firft principles that may be 
called grammatical ; fuch as, that every adjec- 
tive in a fentence muft belong to fome fubftan- 
tive exprefTed or underftood ; that every com- 
plete fentence muft have a verb. 

Thofe who have attended to the ftructure of 
language, and formed diftincl: notions of the na- 
ture and ufe of the various parts of fpeech, per- 
ceive, without reafoning, that thefe, and many 
other fuch principles, are neceflarily true. 

2. There are logical axioms ; fuch as, that any 
contexture of words which does not make a pro- 
portion, is neither true nor falfe ; that every pro- 
position is either true or falfe ; that no proportion 
can be both true and falfe at the fame time ; 
that reafoning in a circle proves nothing ; that 
whatever may be truly affirmed of a genus, may 
be truly affirmed of all the fpecies, and all the 
individuals belonging to that genus. 

3. Every one knows there are mathematical 
axioms. Mathematicians have, from the days 
of Euclid, very wifely laid down the axioms or 
firft principles on which they reafon. And the 
effecT: which this appears to have had upon the 
liability and happy progrefs of this fcience, gives 


350 ESSAY VI. [chap. 6. 

no fmall encouragement to attempt to lay the 
foundation of other fciences in a fimilar manner, 
as far as we are able. 

Mr Hume hath difcovered, as he apprehends, 
a weak fide, even in mathematical axioms ; and 
thinks, that it is not ftrictly true, for inftance, 
that two right lines can cut one another in one 
point only. 

The principle he reafons from is, That every 
iimple idea is a copy of a preceding impreffion ; 
and therefore, in its precifion and accuracy, can 
never go beyond its original. From which he 
reafons in this manner : No man ever faw or felt 
a line fo ftraight, that it might not cut another, 
equally ftraight, in two or more points. There- 
fore there can be no idea of fuch a line. 

The ideas that are moft eftential to geometry, 
fuch as, thofe of equality, of a ftraight line, and 
of a fquare furface, are far, he fays, from being 
diftincl and determinate ; and the definitions de- 
stroy the pretended demonftrations. Thus, ma- 
thematical demonftration is found to be a rope 
of fand. 

I agree with this acute author, that, if we 
could form no notion of points, lines, and furfa- 
ces, more accurate than thofe we fee and handle, 
there could be no mathematical demonftration. 

But every man that has underftanding, by a- 
naiyfing, by abftracting, and compounding the 
rude materials exhibited by his fenfes, can fa- 


bricate, in his own mind, thofe elegant and ac- 
curate forms of mathematical lines, furfaces, and 

If a man finds himfelf incapable of forming 
a precife and determinate notion of the figure 
which Mathematicians call a cube, he not only 
is no Mathematician, but is incapable of being 
one. But, if he has a precife and determinate 
notion of that figure, he mult perceive, that it 
is terminated by fix mathematical furfaces, per- 
fectly fquare, and perfectly equal. He mufl 
perceive, that thefe furfaces are terminated by 
twelve mathematical lines, perfectly ftraight, 
and perfectly equal, and that thofe lines are ter- 
minated by eight mathematical points. 

When a man is confcious of having thefe 
conceptions diftinct and determinate, as every 
Mathematician is, it is in vain to bring meta- 
phyfical arguments to convince him that they are 
not diftincl:. You may as well bring arguments 
to convince a man racked with pain, that he 
feels no pain. 

Every theory that is inconfiflent with our ha- 
ving accurate notions of mathematical lines, 
furfaces, and folids, mufl be falfe. Therefore it 
follows, that they are not copies of our impref- 

The Medicean Venus is not a copy of the 
block of marble from which it was made. It is 
true, that the elegant ftatue was formed out of 


35 2 


the rude block, and that too by a manual ope- 
ration, which, in a literal fenfe, we may call ab~ 
ftra&ion. Mathematical notions are formed in 
the underftanding by an abftra&ion of another 
kind, out of the rude perceptions of our fenfes. 

As the truths of natural philofophy are not 
neceffary truths, but contingent, depending up- 
on the will of the Maker of the world, the prin- 
ciples from which they are deduced muft be of 
the fame nature, and therefore belong not to this 


4. I think there are axioms, even in matters 
of tafte. Notwithftanding the variety found 
among men, in tafte, there are, I apprehend, 
fome common principles, even in matters of this 
kind. I never heard of any man who thought 
it a beauty in a human face to want a nofe, or 
an eye, or to have the mouth on one fide. How 
many ages have pafied fmce the days of Homer ! 
Yet, in this long trad of ages, there never was 
found a man who took Thersites for a beauty. 

The Jine arts are very properly called the arts 
of tap, becaufe the principles of both are the 
fame ; and in the fine arts, we find no lefs agree- 
ment among thofe who praftife them than among 
other artifts. 

No work of tafte can be either relilhed or 
vmderftood by thofe who do not agree with the 

author in the principles of tafte. 



Homer, and Virgil, and Shakespear, and 
Milton, had the fame tafte ; and all men who 
have been acquainted with their writings, and 
agree in the admiration of them, mull have the 
fame tafte. 

The fundamental rules of poetry and mufic 
and painting, and dramatic action and elo- 
quence, have been always the fame, and will be 
fo to the end of the world. 

The variety we find among men in matters of 
tafte is eafily accounted for, confiftently with 
what we have advanced. 

There is a tafte that is acquired, and a tafte 
that is natural. This holds with refpect. both 
to the external fenfe of tafte and the internal. 
Habit and fafhion have a powerful influence up- 
on both. 

Of taftes that are natural, there are fome that 
may be called rational, others that are merely 

Children are delighted with brilliant and 
gaudy colours, with romping and noify mirth, 
with feats of agility, ftrength, or cunning ; and 
lavages have much the fame tafte as children. 

But there are taftes that are more intellectual. 
It is the dictate of our rational nature, that love 
and admiration are mifplaced when there is no 
intrinfic worth in the objecl. 

In thofe operations of tafte which are rational, 

we judge of the real worth and excellence of 

Vol. II. X the 

354 ESSAY VI. [chap. 6, 

the object, and our love or admiration is guided 
by that judgment. In fuch operations there is, 
judgment as well as feeling, and the feeling de- 
pends upon the judgment we form of the object.. 
I do not maintain that tafte, fo far as it is ac- 
quired, or fo far as it is merely animal, can be 
reduced to principles. But as far as it is found- 
ed on judgment, it certainly may. 

The virtues, the graces, the mufes, have a 
beauty that is intrinfic. It lies not in the feel- 
ings of the fpectator, but in the real excellence 
of the object. If we do not perceive their 
beauty, it is owing to the defect, or to the per- 
verlion of our faculties. 

And as there is an original beauty in certain 
moral and intellectual qualities, fo there is a 
borrowed and derived beauty in the natural 
ligns and expreffions of fuch qualities. 

The features of the human face, the modu- 
lations of the voice, and the proportions, atti- 
tudes, and gefture of the body, are all natural 
expreilions of good or bad qualities of the per- 
fon, and derive a beauty or a deformity from the 
qualities which they exprefs. 

Works of art exprefs fome quality of the artifr, 
and often d- rive an additional beauty from their 
utility or fknefs for their end. 

Of fuch things there are fame that ought to 
pleafe, and others that ought to difpleafe. If 
they do not. it is owing to fome defect, in the 



fpectator. But what has real excellence will al- 
ways pleafe thole who have a correct judgment 
and a found heart. 

The fum of what has been faid upon this fub- 
ject is, that, fetting afide the taftes which men 
acquire by habit and faihion, there is a natural 
tafte, which is party animal, and partly rational. 
With regard to the firft, all we can fay is, that 
the Author of Nature, for wife reafons, has 
formed us fo as to receive pleafure from the con- 
templation of certain objects, and difguft from 
others, before we are capable of perceiving any 
real excellence in one, or defect in the other. But 
that tafte which we may call rational, is that 
part of our conftitution by which we are made 
to receive pleafure from the contemplation of 
what we conceive to be excellent in its kind, 
the pleafure being annexed to this judgment, 
and regulated by it. This tafte may be true or 
falfe, according as it is founded on a true or 
falfe judgment. And if it may be true or falfe, 
k muft have firft principles. 

5. There are alfo firft principles in morals. 

That an unjuft action has more demerit than 
an ungenerous one : That a generous action has 
more merit than a merely juft one : That no 
man ought to be blamed for what it was not in 
his power to hinder : That we ought not to do 
to others what we would think unjuft or unfair 
to be done to us in like circumftances : Thefe 
7i 2 are 

356 ESSAY VI. [cHAf. 6, 

are moral axioms, and many others might be 
named which appear to me to have no lefs evi- 
dence than thole of mathematics. 

Some perhaps may think, that our determi- 
nations, either in matters of tafte or in morals, 
ought not to be accounted neceffary truths : 
That they are grounded upon the conftitution 
of that faculty which we call tafte, and of that 
which we call the moral fenfe or confcience ; 
which faculties might have been fo conftituted 
as to have given determinations different, or even 
contrary to thofe they now give : That as there 
is nothing fweet or bitter in itfelf, but according 
as it agrees or difagrees with the external fenfe 
called tafte ; fo there is nothing beautiful or 
ugly in itfelf, but according as it agrees or dif- 
agrees with the internal fenfe, which we alfo 
call tafte 5 and nothing morally good or ill in it- 
felf, but according as it agrees or difagrees with 
our moral fenfe. 

This indeed is a fyftem, with regard to morals 
and tafte, which hath been fupported in modern 
times by great authorities. And if this fyftem 
be true, the ccnfequence muft be, that there can 
be no principles, either of tafte or of morals, 
that are neceflary truths. For, according to this 
fyftem, all our determinations, both with regard 
to matters cf tafte, and with regard to morals, 
are reduced to matters of fact. I mean to fuch 
as thefe, that by our conftitution we have on fuch 



occafions certain agreeable feelings, and on other 
occafions certain difagreeable feelings. 

But I cannot help being of a contrary opinion, 
being perfuaded, that a man who determined 
that polite behaviour has great deformity, and 
that there is a great beauty in rudenefs and ill 
breedings would judge wrong whatever his feel- 
ings werei 

In, like manner, I cannot help thinking, that 
a man who determined that there is more moral 
worth in cruelty, perfidy, and injuftice, than in 
generality, juftice, prudence, and temperance, 
would judge wrong whatever his conflitutionwas. 

And if it be true that there is judgment in our 
determinations of tafte and of morals, it muft be 
granted, that what is true or falie in morals, or 
in matters of taile, is necefTarily fo. For this 
reafon, I have ranked the firft principles of mo- 
rals and of tafte under the clafs of necefTary 

6. The laft clafs of firft principles I fhall men- 
tion, we may call metaphyfical. 

I fhall particularly confider three of thefe, be- 
caufe they have been called in queftion by Mr 

The firft is, That the qualities which we per- 
ceive by our fenfes mull have a fubject, which 
we call body, and that the thoughts we are con- 
fcious of muft have a fubject, which we call 

Z 3 It 

358 essay vr. [chap, 6, 

It is not more evident that two and two make 
four, than it is that figure cannot exift, unlefs there 
be fomething that is figured, nor motion with- 
out fomething that is moved. I not only per- 
ceive figure and motion, but I perceive them to 
be qualities : They have a necefiary relation to 
fomething in which they exift as their fubjecl. 
The difficulty which fome Philofophers have 
found in admitting this> is entirely owing to the 
theory of ideas* A fubjecl: of the fenfible quali> 
ties which we perceive by our fenfes, is not an 
idea either of fenfation or of confcioufnefs ; 
therefore fay they, we have no fuch idea. Or, 
in the ftyle of Mr Heme, from what impref- 
fibn is the idea of fubftance derived ? It is not 
a copy of any imprefiion ; therefore there is no 
fuch idea. 

The diftinclion between fenfible qualities, and 
the fubftance to which they belong, and between 
thought, and the mind that thinks, is not the 
invention of Philofophers ; it is found in the 
ftructure of all languages, and therefore muft be 
common to all men who fpeak with underftand- 
ing. And I believe no man, however fceptical 
he may be in fpeculation, can talk on the com- 
mon aifaiTS of life for half an hour, without fay- 
ing things that imply his belief of the reality of 
thefe diftinftions. 

Mr Locke acknowledges, " That we cannot 
" conceive how firnple ideas of fenfible qualities 

" mould 


" mould fubfift alone ; and therefore we fuppofe 
" them to exift in, and to be fupported by, fome 
" cominon lubject." In his EiTay, indeed, fome 
of his expreflions feem to leave it dubious, whe- 
ther this belief, that fenfible qualities mull have a 
fubject, be a true judgment, or a vulgar preju- 
dice. But in his firft letter to the Bifhop of 
Worcester, he removes this doubt, and quotes 
many paffages of his Elfay, to fhew that he nei- 
ther denied, nor doubted of the exiftence of 
fubftances, both thinking and material ; and that 
he believed their exiftence on the fame ground 
the Bifhop did, to wit, " on the repugnancy to 
" our conceptions, that modes and accidents 
** mould fubfift by themfelves." He offers no 
proof of this repugnancy; nor, I think, can any 
proof of it be given, becaufe it is a firft prin- 

It were to be wiflied that Mr Locke, who in- 
quired fo accurately and fo laudably into the ori- 
gin, certainty, and extent of human knowledge, 
had turned his attention more particularly to the 
origin of thefe two opinions which he firmly be- 
lieved ; to wit, that fenfible qualities mufl have a 
fubject which we call body, and that thought 
mult have a fubjed which we call mind. A due 
attention to thefe two opinions which govern the 
belief of all men, even of Sceptics in the prac- 
tice of life, would probably have led him to per- 
ceive, that fenfation and confcioufnefs are not 
Z 4 "' the 

3<oo £ S S A Y -VI. [chap. 6. 

the only fources of human knowledge ; and that 
there are principles of belief in human nature, 
of which we can give no other account but that 
they neceffarily refult from the constitution of 
our faculties ; and that if it were in our power 
to throw off their influence upon our practice 
and conduct, we could neither fpeak nor act like 
reafonable men. 

We cannot give a reafon why we believe even 
our fenfations to be real and not fallacious ; why 
we believe what we are confcious of ; why we 
truft: any of our natural faculties.' We fay, it muft 
be fo, it cannot be otherwife. This expreffes 
only a ftrong belief, which is indeed the voice of 
Nature, and which therefore in vain we attempt 
to refift. But if, in fpite of Nature, we refolve 
to go deeper, and not to truft our faculties, 
without a reafon to ihew that they cannot be fal- 
lacious. I am afraid, that feeking to become 
wife, and to be as gods, we fhall become fooliih* 
and being unfatisfied with the lot of humanity, 
we fhall throw off common fenfe. 

The fecond metaphyseal principle J mention 
is, That wnatever begins to exift, muft have a 
caufe which produced it. 

Philofophy is indebted to Mr Hume in this 
refpect among others, that, by calling in ques- 
tion many of the firft principles of human know- 
ledge, he hath put fpeculative men upon inqui- 
ring more carefully than was done before, into. 



the nature of the evidence upon which they reft. 
Truth can never fuffer by a fair inquiry ; it can 
bear to be feen naked and in the fulleft light ; 
and the ftricteft examination will always turn out 
in the ifTue to its advantage. I believe Mr 
Hume was the firft who ever called in queftion 
whether things that begin to exift muft have a 

With regard to this point, we mull hold one 
of thefe three things, either that it is an opinion, 
for which we have no evidence, and which men 
have foolilhly taken up without ground ; ov,fe- 
condly, That it is capable of direct proof by ar- 
gument ; or, thirdly, That it is felf-evident, and 
needs no proof, but ought to be received as an 
axiom, which cannot by reafonable men be call- 
ed in queftion. 

The firft of thefe fuppofitions would put an 
end to all philofophy, to all religion, to all rea- 
foning that would carry us beyond the objects 
of fenfe, and to all prudence in the conduct of 

As to the fecond fuppofition, that this prin- 
ciple may be proved by direct reafoning, I am 
afraid we (hall find the proof extremely diffi- 
cult, if not altogether impoffible. 

I know only of three or four arguments that 
have been urged by Philofophers, in the way of 
abftract reafoning, to prove, that things which 
begin to ex ill muft have a caufe. 


3^2 ESSAY VI. [CHAP. 6, 

One is offered by Mr Hobbes, another by 
Dr Samuel Clarke, another by Mr Locke. 
Mr Hume, in his Treatife of Human Nature, 
has examined them all ; and, in my opinion, has 
lhewn, that they take for granted the thing to 
be proved ; a kind of falfe reafoning, which 
men are very apt to fall into when they attempt 
to prove what is felf-evident. 

It has been thought, that, although this prin- 
ciple does not admit of proof from abftract rea- 
foning, it may be proved from experience, and 
may bejuftly drawn by induction from inftances 
that fall within our obfervations. 

I conceive this method of proof will leave 
us in great uncertainty, for thefe three reafons : 

ifif Becaufe the propofition to be proved is 
not a contingent but a neceffary propofition. It 
is not, that things which begin to exift common- 
ly have a caufe, or even that they always in fact 
have a caufe ; but that they mult have a caufe, 
and cannot begin to exift without a caufe. 

Propoiitions of this kind, from their nature, 
are incapable of proof by induction. Experi- 
ence informs us only of what is or has been, 
not of what muft be \ and the conclufion mud 
be of the fame nature with the pre miles. 

For this reafon, no mathematical propofition 
can be proved by induction. Though it fhould 
be found by experience in a tfyoufand cafes, that 



the area of a plane triangle is equal to the reel- 
angle under the altitude and half the bafe, this 
would not prove that it muft be fo in all cafes, 
and cannot be otherwife ; which is what the 
Mathematician affirms. 

In like manner, though we had the moft ample 
experimental proof, that things which have be- 
gun to exift had a caufe, this would not prove 
that they muft have a caufe. Experience may 
fhew us what is the eftablifhed courfe of nature, 
but can never fhew what conne&ions of things 
are in their nature neceffary. 

idly, General maxims, grounded on experi- 
ence, have only a degree of probability propor- 
tioned to the extent of our experience, and ought 
always to be underftood fo as to leave room for 
exceptions, if future experience mail difcover 
any fuch. 

The law of gravitation has as full a proof from 
experience and induction as any principle can be 
fuppofed to have. Yet if any Philofopher mould, 
by clear experiment, mew that there is a kind 
of matter in fome bodies which does not gra- 
vitate, the law of gravitation ought to be limi- 
ted by that exception. 

Now it is evident, that men have never con- 
fidered the principle of the neceffity of caufes, 
as a truth of this kind which may admit of li- 
mitation or exception ; and therefore it has not 
been received upon this kind of evidence. 


3 6 4 ESSAY VI. [CHAP. 01 

3^/y, I do not fee that experience could fa- 
tisfy us that every change in nature actually has 
a caufe. 

In the far greateft part of the changes in na- 
ture that fall within our obfervation, the caufes 
are unknown ; and therefore, from experience, 
we cannot know whether they have caufes or 

Caufation is not an object: of fenfe. The 
only experience we can have of it, is in the 
confcioufnefs we have of exerting forae power 
in ordering our thoughts and actions. But this 
experience is furely too narrow a foundation for 
a general conclufion, that all things that have 
had or Ihall have a beginning muft have a caufe. 

For thefe reafons, this principle cannot be 
drawn from experience, any more than from 
abftract reafoning. 

The third fuppoiition is, That it is to be ad- 
mitted as a firft or felf-evident principle. Two 
.reafons may be urged for this. 

i/?, The univerfal confent of mankind, not of 
Philofophers only, but of the rude and unlearn- 
ed vulgar. 

Mr Hume, as far as I know, was the firft that 
ever expreifed any doubt of this principle. And 
when we confider that he has rejected every 
principle of human knowledge, excepting that 
of confcioufnefs, and has not even fpared the 



axioms of mathematics, his authority is of fmall 

Indeed, with regard to firft principles, there 
is. no reafon why the opinion of a Philofopher 
fhould have more authority than that of another 
man of common fenfe, who has been accuftom- 
ed to judge in fuch cafes. The illiterate vul- 
gar are competent judges ; and the Philofopher 
has no prerogative in matters of this kind 5 but 
he is more liable than they to be milled by a 
favourite fyflem, efpecially if it is his own. 

Setting afide the authority of Mr Hume, 
what has philofophy been employed in, fince . 
men firft began to philofophife, but in the in- 
vefligation of the caufes of things ? This it has 
always profefTed, when we trace it to its cradle. 
It never entered into any man's thought, before 
the Philofopher we have mentioned, to put 
the previous queftion, whether things have a 
caufe or not ? Had it been thought poffible that 
they might not, it may be prefumed, that, in the 
variety of abfurd and contradictory caufes af- 
figned, fome one would have had recourfe to this 

They could conceive the world to arife from 
an egg, from a ftruggle between love and rtrife, 
between moifture and drought, between heat 
and cold ; but they never fuppofed that it 
had no caufe. We know not any Atheiflic 
feci: that ever had recourfe to this topic, though 


$66 ESSAY VI. [CHAP. 6e 

by it they might have evaded every argument 
that could be brought againft them, and anfwer- 
ed all objections to their fyftem. 

But rather than adopt fuch an abfurdity, they 
contrived fome imaginary caufe ; fuch as chance, 
a concourfe of atoms, or neceflity, as the caufe 
of the umverfe. 

The accounts which Philofophers have giveiv 
of particular phenomena, as well as of the uni- 
verfe in general, proceed upon the fame prin- 
ciple. That every phenomenon mutt have a 
caufe, was always taken for granted. Nil tur- 
pius phyjico, fays Cicero, quam fieri fine caufa 
quicquam dicere. Though an Academic, he was 
dogmatical in this. And Plato, the Father of 
the academy, was no lefs fo. " IIa*7* ya.% uSualon 
" yaps ai\U y'mfiy %^.^ Timj£.us. It is impof- 
iible that any thing mould have its origin with- 
out a caufe. 

I believe Mr Hume was the nrft who ever 
held the contrary. This, indeed, he avows, and 
alfumes the honour of the difcovery. " It is, 
il . fays he, a maxim in philofophy, that whatever 
""' begins to exift, muil have a caufe of exiflence, 
"'This is commonly taken for granted in all 
6 * reafonings, without any proof given or de- 
" manded. It is fuppofed to be founded on in- 
*' tuition, and to be one of thofe maxims, which, 
" though they may be denied with the lips, it is 
^ impoffible for men in their hearts really to 

" doubt 


" doubt of. But, if we examine this maxim by 
" the idea of knowledge, above explained, we 
" fhall difcover in it no mark of fuch intuitive 
" certainty." The meaning of this feems to be, 
that it did not fuit with his theory of intuitive 
certainty, and therefore he excludes it from that 

The vulgar adhere to this maxim as firmly 
and univerfally as the Philofophers. Their fu- 
perftitions have the fame origin as the fyftems of 
Philofophers, to wit, a defire to know the caufes 
of things. Felix qui potuit rerum cognofcere 
caufus, is the univerfal fenfe of men ; but tp fay 
that any thing can happen without a caufe, 
fliocks the common fenfe of a favage, 

This univerfal belief of mankind is eafily ac- 
counted for, if we allow that the necellity of a 
caufe of every event is obvious to the rational 
powers of a man. But it is impoffible to ac- 
count for it otherwife. It cannot be afcribed to 
education, to fyftems of philofophy, or to prieft- 
craft. One would think, that a Philofopher who 
takes it to be a general delufion or prejudice, 
would endeavour to fhow from what caufes in 
human nature fuch a general error may take its 
rife. But I forget that Mr Hume might anfwer 
upon his own principles, that fince things may 
happen without a caufe, this error and delufion 
pi men may be univerfal without any caufe. 


368 ESSAY VI. [CHAP. 6. 

A fecond reafon why I conceive this to be a 
fir ft principle, is, That mankind not only affent 
to it in fpeculation, but that the practice of life 
is grounded upon it in the molt important mat- 
ters, even in cafes where experience leaves us 
doubtful ; and it is impoflible to act with com- 
mon prudence if we fet it alide. 

In great families there are fo many bad things 
done by a certain perfonage called no body, that 
it is proverbial, that there is a no body about 
every houfe who does a great deal of mifchief ; 
and even where there is the exacted infpection 
and government, many events will happen of 
which no other author can be found : So that, 
if we trull merely to experience in this matter, 
no body will be found to be a Very active per- 
fon, and to have no inconfiderable fhare in the 
management of affairs. But whatever counte- 
nance this fyflem may have from experience, it 
is too mocking to common fenfe to impofe upon 
the moft ignorant. A child knows, that when 
his top, or any of his play- things are taken away, 
it muft be done by fomebody. Perhaps it would 
not be difficult to perfuade him that it was done 
by fome invilible being, but that it fhould be 
done by no body he cannot believe. 

Suppofe a man's houfe to be broke open, his 
money and jewels taken away. Such things 
have happened times innumerable without any 
apparent caufe \ and were he only to reafon from 



experience in fuch a cafe, how mint he behave ? 
He mult put in one fcale the inftances wherein 
a caufe was found of fuch an event, and in the 
other fcale, the inftances where no caufe was 
found, and the preponderant fcale muft deter- 
mine, whether it be moft probable that there 
was a caufe of this event, or that there was none. 
Would any man of common underltanding have 
recourfe to fuch an expedient to direct his judg- 

Suppofe a man to be found dead on the high- 
way, his fkull fractured, his body pierced with 
deadly wounds, his watch and money carried 
off. The coroners jury fits upon the body, and 
the queftion is put, What was the caufe of this 
man's death, was it accident, or felo de fe r or 
murder by perfons unknown ? Let us fuppofe 
an adept in Mr Hume's philofophy to make one 
of the jury, and that he infifts upon the previous 
queftion, whether there was any caufe of the 
event ; or whether it happened without a caufe ? 

Surely, upon Mr Hume's principles, a great 
deal might be faid upon this point ; and, if the 
matter is to be determined by paft experience, it is 
dubious on which lide the weight of argument 
might ftand. But we may venture to fay, that, 
if Mr Hume had been of fuch a jury, he would 
liave laid afide his philofophical principles, and 
acted according to the dictates of common pru- 

Vol. II. A a Many 

37° ESSAY VI. [chap. 6. 

Many paffages might be produced, even in 
Mr Hume's philofophical writings, in which he, 
unawares, betrays the fame inward conviction of 
the neceflity of caufes, which is common to 
other men. I fhall mention only one, in the 
Treatife of Human Nature, and in that part of 
it where he combats this very principle. " As 
" to thofe impreffions, fays Jie, which arife from 
" the fenfes, their ultimate caufe is, in my opi- 
" nion, perfectly inexplicable by human reafon ; 
" and it will always be impoffible to decide with 
" certainty, whether they arife immediately from 
" the object, or are produced by the creative 
" power of the mind, or are derived from the 
" Author of our being." 

Among thefe alternatives, he never thought 
of their net ariling from any caufe. 

The arguments which Mr Hume offers, to 
prove that this is not a felf-evident principle, are 
three. Firjl, That all certainty arifes from a 
comparifon of ideas, and a difcovery of their un- 
alterable relations, none of which relations imply 
this propofition, That whatever has a beginning 
muft have a caufe of exigence. This theory of 
certainty has been examined before, in chap. 3. 
of this Effay. 

The fecond argument is, That whatever we 
can conceive is poiTible. This has likewife been 



The third argument is, That what we call a 
caufe, is only fomething antecedent to, and al- 
ways conjoined with the effect. This is alfo one 
of Mr Hume's peculiar doctrines, which we may 
have occafion to conlider afterwards. It is fuf- 
ficient here to obferve, that we may learn from 
it that night is the caufe of day, and day the 
caufe of night : For no two things have more 
conftantly followed each other fince the begin- 
ning of the world. 

The lajl metaphylical principle I mention, 
which is oppofed by the fame author, is, That 
defign, and intelligence in the caufe, may be in- 
ferred, with certainty, from marks or figns of it 
in the effect. 

Intelligence, defign, and fkill, are not objects 
of the external fenfes, nor can we be confcious 
of them in any per ton but ourfelves. Even in 
ourfelves, we cannot, with propriety, be faid to 
be confcious of the natural or acquired talents 
we poffefs. We are confcious only of the ope- 
rations of mind in which they are exerted. In- 
deed, a man comes to know his own mental 
abilities, juft as he knows another man's, by the 
effects they produce, when there is occafion to 
put them to exercife. 

A man's wifdom is known to us only by the 

figns of it in his conduct ; his eloquence by the 

iigns of it in his fpeech. In the fame manner 

A a 2 we 

372 ESSAY VI. [CHAP. 6. 

we judge of his virtue, of his fortitude, and of 
all his talents and qualities of mind. 

Yet it is to be obferved, that we judge of mens 
talents with as little doubt or hefitation as we 
judge of the immediate objects of fenfe. 

One perfon, we are lure, is a perfect idiot ; 
another who feigns idiocy to fcreen himfelf from 
punilhment, is found upon trial to have the un- 
derstanding of a man, and to be accountable for 
his conduct. We perceive one man to be open, 
another cunning; one to be ignorant, another 
very knowing ; one to be flow of underftanding, 
another quick. Every man forms fuch judg- 
ments of thofe he converfes with \ and the com- 
mon affairs of life depend upon fuch judgments. 
We can as little avoid them as we can avoid fee- 
ing what is before our eyes. 

From this it appears, that it is no lefs a part 
of the human conftitution, to judge of mens cha- 
racters, and of their intellectual powers, from 
the iigns of them in their actions and difcourfe, 
than to judge of corporeal objects by our fenfes : 
That fuch judgments are common to the whole 
human race that are endowed with underftand- 
ing ; and that they are abfolutely necefTary in 
the conduct of life. 

Now, every judgment of this kmd we form, is 
only a particular application of the general prin- 
ciple, that intelligence, wifdom, and other men- 


tal qualities in the caufe, may be inferred from 
their marks or figns in the effect. 

The actions and difcourfes of men are effects, 
of which the actors and fpeakers are the caufes. 
The effects are perceived by our fenfes \ but the 
caufes are behind the fcene. We only conclude 
their exiitence and their degrees from our obfer- 
vation of the effects. 

From wife conduct: we infer wifdom in the 
caufe ; from brave actions we infer courage \ and 
fo in other cafes. 

This inference is made with perfect fecurity 
by all men. We cannot avoid it ; it is necef- 
fary in the ordinary conduct of life ; it has 
therefore the itrongeft marks of being a firft 

Perhaps fome may think that this principle 
may be learned either by reafoning or by ex- 
perience, and therefore that there is no ground 
to think it a firft principle. 

If it can be fhewn to be got by reafoning, by 
all, or the greater part of thofe who are governed 
by it, I fhall very readily acknowledge that it 
ought not to be efteemed a firft principle. But 
I apprehend the contrary appears from very 
convincing arguments. 

Firjl, The principle is too univerfal to be the 

effect of reafoning. It is common to Philofo- 

phers and to the vulgar ; to the learned and the 

moil illiterate j to the civilized and to the fa- 

A a 3 vage ; 

374 E S S A Y VI. [chap. & 

vage : And of thofe who are governed by it, not 
one in ten thoufand can give a reafon for it. 

Secondly, We find Philofophers, ancient and 
modern, who can reafon excellently in fubjecls 
that admit of reafoning, when they have occa- 
iion to defend this principle, not offering rea- 
fons for it, or any medium of proof, but appeal- 
ing to the common fenfe of mankind ; mention- 
ing particular inflances, to make the abfurdity 
of the contrary opinion more apparent, and. 
fometimes ufing the weapons of wit and ridicule, 
which are very proper weapons for refuting ab- 
surdities, but altogether improper in points that 
are to be determined by reafoning. 

To confirm this obfervation, I mail quote two 
authors, an ancient and a modern,who have more 
exprefily undertaken the defence of this prin- 
ciple than any others I remember to have met 
with, and whofe good fenfe and ability to reafon, 
where reafoning is proper, will not be doubted. 

The firft is Cicero, whofe words, lib, I. 
cap. 13. De divinatione, may be thus tranilated. 

" Can any thing done by chance have all the 
" marks of defign ? Four dice may by chance 
" turn up four aces ; but do you think that four 
" hundred dice, thrown by chance, will turn up 
" four hundred aces ? Colours thrown upon can- 
" vas without defign may have fome fimilitude 
" to a human face ; but do yen think they might 
" make as beautiful a picture as that of the Coan 

" Venus? 


" Venus ? A hog turning up the ground with 
" his nofe may make fomething of the form of 
" the letter A; but do you think that a hog 
" might defcribe on the ground the Andromache 
" of Ennius ? Carneades imagined, that in 
" the ftone quarries at Chios he found, in a ftone 
" that was fplit, a reprefentation of the head of 
" a little Pan, or fylvan deity. I believe he 
" might find a figure not unlike ; but furely not 
" fuch a one as you would fay had been formed 
" by an excellent Sculptor like Scopas. For 
" fo, verily, the cafe is, that chance never per- 
" feclly imitates defign." Thus Cicero, 

Now, in all this difcourfe I fee very good 
fenfe, and what is apt to convince every unpre- 
judiced mind; but I fee not in the whole a 
iingle ftep of reafoning. It is barely an appeal 
to every man's common fenfe. 

Let us next fee how the fame point is hand- 
led by the excellent Archbifhop Tillotson, 
lit Sermon, vol. i. 

" For I appeal to any man of reafon, whe- 
" ther any thing can be more unreafonable, than 
" obftinately to impute an effect, to chance which 
" carries in the face of it all the arguments and 
" characters of defign ? Was ever any conlider- 
" able work, in which there was required a 
" great variety of parts, and an orderly and re- 
" gular adjuftment of thefe parts, done by 
" chance ? Will chance fit means to ends, and 
A a 4 " that 

376 ESSAY VI. [chap; 6; 

" that in ten thoufand inftances, and not fail in 
" any one ? How often might a man, after he 
" had jumbled a fet of letters in a bag, fling 
" them out upon the ground before they would 
" fall into an exact poem, yea or fo much as 
" make a good difeourfe in profe ? And may not 
" a little book be as eafily made as this great 
" volume of the world ? How long might a man 
" fprinkle colours upon canvas with a carelefs 
" hand before they would make the exact pic- 
" ture of a man? And is a man eafier made by 
" chance than his picture ? How long might 
" twenty thoufand blind men, which mould be 
" fent out from the remote parts of England, 
" wander up and down before they would all 
" meet upon Salifbury plains, and fall into rank 
** and file in the exact order of an army ? And 
" yet this is much more eafy to be imagined 
*' than how the innumerable blind parts of mat- 
" ter mould rendezvous themfelves into a world. 
" A man that fees Henry the Seventh's chapel 
" at Weftminfter might with as good reafon 
" maintain, (yea and much better, confidering 
" the vaft difference between that little ftructure 
" and the huge fabric of the world), that it was 
" never contrived or built by any man, but that. 
" the ftones did by chance grow into thofe curi- 
" ous figures into which we fee them to have; 
" been cut and graven ; and that upon a time, 
" (as. tales uiually begin), the materials of that. 

" building^. 

First principles of necessary truths. 37/ 

" building, the Hone, mortar, timber, iron, lead ? 
" and glafs, happily met together, and very 
u fortunately ranged themfelves into that deli- 
" cate order in which we fee them now fo clofe 
" compacted, that it mull be a very great chance 
" that parts them again. What would the 
" world think of a man that fhould advance fuch 
" an opinion as this, and write a book for it? 
" If they would do him right, they ought to 
" look upon him as mad. But yet he might 
" maintain this opinion with a little more reafon 
". than any man can have to fay that the world 
" was made by chance, or that the flrft men 
" grew out of the earth, as plants do now. For 
" can any thing be more ridiculous and againft 
" all reafon, than to afcribe the production of 
'.* men to the fLrft fruitfulnefs of the earth, with- 
" out fo much as one inftance or experiment in 
" any age or hiftory to countenance fo monftrous 
" a fuppofition ? The thing is at firft fight fo 
" grofs and palpable, that no difcourfe about it 
" can make it more apparent. And yet thefe 
" fhameful beggars of principles, who give this 
" precarious account of the original of things, 
" affume to themfelves to be the men of reafon^ 
" the great wits of the world, the only cautious 
" and wary perfons, who hate to be impofed 
" upon, that rauft have convincing evidence for 
" every thing, and can admit nothing without a 
" clear demonftraiion for it," 


37§ ESSAY VI. [chap. & 

In this paffage, the excellent author takes 
what I conceive to be the proper method of re- 
fating an abfurdity, by expofing it in different 
lights, in which every man of common under- 
ftanding perceives it to be ridiculous. And al- 
though there is much good fenfe, as well as wit, 
in the palfage I have quoted, I cannot find one 
medium of proof in the whole. 

I have met with one or two refpectable au- 
thors who draw an argument from the doctrine 
of chances, to fhew how improbable it is that a 
regular arrangement of parts mould be the ef- 
fect of chance, or that it mould not be the ef- 
fect of defign. 

I do not object to this reafoning ; but I would 
obferve, that the doctrine of chances is a branch 
of mathematics little more than an hundred 
years old. But the conclufion drawn from it 
has been held by all men from the beginning of 
the world. It cannot, therefore, be thought 
that men have been led to this conclufion by 
that reafoning. Indeed, it may be doubted 
whether the firfc principle upon which all the 
mathematical reafoning about chances is ground- 
ed, is more felf-evident than this conclufion 
drawn from it, or whether it is not a particular 
inftance of that general conclufion. 

We are next to confider whether we may not 
learn this truth from experience 9 That effects 



which have all the marks and tokens of defign 
mult proceed from a defigning caufe. 

I apprehend that we cannot learn this truth 
from experience, for two reafons. 

Fir/I, Becaufe it is a neceffary truth, not a 
contingent one. It agrees with the experience 
of mankind fince the beginning of the world, 
that the area of a triangle is equal to half the 
rectangle under its bale and perpendicular. It 
agrees no lefs with experience, that the fun rifes 
in the eaft and fets in the weft. So far as ex- 
perience goes, thefe truths are upon an equal 
footing. But every man perceives this diilinc- 
tion between them, that the firit is a neceffary 
truth, and that it is impoffible it mould not be 
true ; but the laft is not neceffary, but contin- 
gent, depending upon the will of him who made 
the world. As we cannot learn from experi- 
ence that twice three mult neceffarily make fix, 
fo neither can we learn from experience that 
certain effects rauft proceed from a defigning 
and intelligent caufe. Experience informs us 
only of what has been, but never of w r hat muft 

Secondly, It may be obferved, that experience 
can mow a connection between a lign, and the 
thing fignified by it, in thofe cafe; only, where 
both the fign and thing fignified are perceived, 
and have always been perceived in conjunction. 
But if there be any cafe where the lign only is 


380 ESSAY VI. [chap. Co 

perceived, experience can never lhew its con- v 
nection with the thing fignified. Thus, for ex- 
ample, thought is a fign of a thinking principle 
or mind. But how do we know that thought 
cannot be without a mind ? If any man fhould 
fay that he knows this by experience, he de- 
ceives himfelf. It is impofTible he can have 
any experience of this ; becaufe, though we have 
an immediate knowledge of the exiftence of 
thought in ourfelves by confcioufnefs, yet we 
have no immediate knowledge of a mind. The 
mind is not an immediate object either of fenfe 
or of confcioufnefs. We may therefore juftly 
conclude, that the neceffary connection between 
thought and a mind s or thinking being, is not 
learned from experience. 

The fame reafoning may be applied to the 
connection between a work excellently fitted 
for fome purpofe, and defign in the author or 
caufe of that work. One of thefe, to wit, the 
work, may be an immediate object of perception. 
But the defign and purpofe of the author can- 
not be an immediate object of perception; and 
therefore experience can never inform us of any 
connection between the one and the other, far 
lefs of a neceffary connection. 

Thus I think it appears, that the principle we 
have been confidering, to wit, that from certain 
iigns or indications in the effect, we may infer, 
that there rnuft have been intelligence, wifdom, 



or other intellectual or moral qualities in the 
caufe, is a principle which we get, neither by 
reafoning nor by experience ; and therefore, if it 
be a true principle, it mull be a firft principle. 
There is in the human underftanding a light, 
by which we fee immediately the evidence of 
it, when there is occalion to apply it. 

Of how great importance this principle is in 
common life, we have already obferved. And 
I need hardly mention its importance in natural 

The clear marks and fignatures of wifdom, 
power and goodnefs, in the conftitution and go- 
vernment of the world, is, of all arguments that 
have been advanced for the being and provi- 
dence of the Deity, that which in all ages has 
made the ftrongeft impreffion upon candid and 
thinking minds ; an argument, which has this 
peculiar advantage, that it gathers ftrength as 
human knowledge advances, and is more con- 
vincing at prefent than it was fome centuries 

King Alphonsus might fay, that he could 
contrive a better planetary fyftem than that 
which Aftronomers held in his day. That fy- 
ltem was not the work of God, but the fiction of 

But fmce the true fyftem of the fun, moon, 
and planets, has been difcovered, no man, how- 

382 ESSAY VI. [CHAP. 6^. 

ever atheiftically difpofed, has pretended to mew 
how a better could be contrived. 

When we attend to the marks of good contri- 
vance which appear in the works of God, every 
difcovery we make in the conftitution of the 
material or intellectual fyftem becomes a hymn 
of praife to the great Creator and Governor of 
the world. And a man who is poffeffed of the 
genuine fpirit of philofophy will think it im- 
piety to contaminate the Divine workmanfhip, 
by mixing it with thofe fictions of human fancy, 
called theories and hypothefes, which will al- 
ways bear the lignatures of human folly, no lefs 
than the other does of Divine wifdom. 

I know of no perfon who ever called in que- 
ftion the principle now under our confideration, 
when it is applied to the actions and difcourfes 
of men : For this would be to deny that we 
have any means of difcerning a wife man from 
an idiot, or a man that is illiterate in the highelt 
degree from a man of knowledge and learning, 
which no man has the effrontery to deny. 

But, in all ages, thofe who have been un- 
friendly to the principles of religion, have made 
attempts to weaken the force of the argument 
for the exiftence and perfections of the Deity, 
which is founded on this principle. That argu- 
ment has got the name of the argument from 
final caufes ; and as the meaning of this name is 
well underflood, we lhall ufe it. 



The argument from final caufes, when re- 
duced to a fyllogifm, has thefe two premifes : 
Firft, That defign and intelligence in the caufe, 
may, with certainty, be inferred from marks or 
figns of it in the effect. This is the principle 
we have been confidering, and we may call it the 
major propofition of the argument. The fecond, 
which we call the minor propofition, is, That 
there are in 'fact the clearer! marks of defign and 
wifdom in the works of Nature ; and the con- 
clusion is, that the works of Nature are the ef- 
fects of a wife and intelligent caufe. One mull 
either affent to the conclufion, or deny one or 
other of the premifes. 

Thofe among the ancients who denied a God 
or a Providence, feem to me to have yielded the 
major propofition, and to have denied the mi- 
nor ; conceiving that there are not in the c©n- 
ftitution of things fuch marks of wife contriv- 
ance as are fufficient to put the conclufion be- 
yond doubt. This, I think, we may learn, from 
the reafoning of Cotta the Academic, in the 
third book of Cicero, of the Nature of the 

The gradual advancement made in the know- 
ledge of Nature hath put this opinion quite out 
of countenance. 

When the Structure of the human body was 
much lefs known than it is now, the famous 
(jalen faw fuch evident marks of wife contriv- 

3$4 ESSAY VI. [CHAP. 6. 

ance in it, that though he had been educated an 
Epicurean, he renounced that fyftem, and wrote 
his book of the ufe of the parts of the human 
body, on purpofe to convince others of what ap- 
peared fo clear to himfelf, that it was impoflible 
that fuch admirable contrivance fhould be the 
effect, of chance. 

Thofe, therefore, of later times, who are dif- 
fatisfied with this argument from final caufes, 
have quitted the flrong hold of the ancient 
Atheiits, which had become untenable, and have 
-chofen rather to make a defence againil the ma- 
jor propofition. 

Des Cartes feems to have led the way in 
this, though he was no Atheift. But, having in- 
vented fome new arguments for the being of 
God, he was perhaps led to difparage thofe that 
had been ufed before, that he might bring more 
credit to his own. Or perhaps he was offended 
with the Peripatetics, becaufe they often mixed 
final caufes with phyfical, in order to account 
for the phenomena of nature. 

He maintained therefore that phyfical caufes 
only mould be afligned for phenomena ; that 
the philofopher has nothing to do with final cau- 
fes ; and that it is prefuraption in us to pretend 
to determine for what end any work of nature 
is framed. Some of thofe who were great ad- 
mirers of Des Cartes, and followed him in 
many points, differed from him in this, particu- 

First principles of necessary truths. 385 

larly, Dr Henry More, and the pious Archbi- 
fhop Fenelon : But others, after the example of 
Des Cartes, have fhewn a contempt of all rea- 
foning from final caufes. Among thefe, I think, 
we may reckon Maupertuis and Buffon. But 
the mofl direct attack has been made upon this 
principle by Mr Hume, who puts an argument 
in the mouth of an Epicurean, on which he feems 
to lay great ilrefs. 

The argument is, That the univerfe is a An- 
gular effect, and therefore we can draw no con- 
clufion from it, whether it may have been made 
by wifdom or not. 

If I under-Hand the force of this argument, 
it amounts to this, That if we had been accuf- 
tomed to fee worlds produced, fome by wifdom 
and others without it, and had obferved, that 
fuch a world as this which we inhabit was al- 
ways the effect of wifdom, we might then, from 
pail experience, conclude, that this world was 
made by wifdom \ but having no fuch experi- 
ence, we have no means of forming any conclu"- 
iion about it. 

That this is the flrength of the argument, 
appears, becaufe if the marks of wifdom feen in 
one world be no evidence of wifdom, the like 
marks feen in ten thoufand will give as little evi- 
dence, unlefs, in time pari, we perceived wif- 
dom itfelf conjoined with the tokens of it ; and, 
from their perceived conjunction in time paft, 

Vol. II. B b conclude, 

386 ESSAY VI. [CHAP. 6. 

conclude, that although, in the prefent world, 
we fee only one of the two, the other muft ac- 
company it. 

Whence it appears, that this reafoning of Mr 
Hume is built on the fuppofition, that our infer- 
ring defign from the ftrongelt marks of it, is en- 
tirely owing to our pall experience of having al- 
ways found thefe two things conjoined. But I 
hope I have made it evident that this is not the 
cafe. And indeed it is evident, that, according 
to this reafoning, we can have no evidence of 
mind or defign in any of our fellow-men. 

How do I know that any man of my acquain- 
tance has underftanding ? I never faw his under- 
Handing. I fee only certain effects, which my 
judgment leads me to conclude to be marks 
and tokens of it. 

But, fays the fceptical Philofopher, you can 
conclude nothing from thefe tokens, unlefs paft 
experience has informed you that fuch tokens 
are always joined with underftanding. Alas ! 
Sir, it is impohTble I can ever have this expe- 
rience. The underftanding of another man is 
no immediate object of fight, or of any other 
faculty which God hath given me \ and unlefs 
I can conclude its exiftence from tokens that are 
vifible, 1 have no evidence that there is under- 
ftanding in any m in. 

It feems then, .hat the man who maintains, 
that there is no iorce in the argument from final 



caufes, mnft, if he will be confident, fee no evi- 
dence of the exiftence of any intelligent being 
bat himfelf. 


Opinions ancient arid modern about fir Jl Principles. 

Know no writer who has treated exprefsly 
of firft principles before Aristotle ; but 
it is probable, that, in the ancient Pythagorean 
fchool, from which both Plato and Aristotle 
borrowed much, this fubjecl had not been left 

Before the time of Aristotle, confiderable 
progrefs had been made in the mathematical 
fciences, particularly in geometry. 

The difcovery of the forty-feventh proposi- 
tion of the firft book of Euclid, and of the five 
regular folids, is, by antiquity, afcribed to Py- 
thagoras himfelf; and it is impoffible he could 
have made thofe difcoveries without knowing 
many other propolitions in mathematics. Ari- 
stotle mentions the incommenfurability of the 
diagonal of a fquare to its fide, and gives a hint 
of the manner in which it was demonstrated. 
We find like wife fome of the axioms of geo- 
metry mentioned by Aristotle as axioms, and 
B b 2 as 

388 ESSAY VI. [CHAP. 7, 

as indemonftrable principles of mathematical 

It is probable, therefore, that, before the time 
of Aristotle, there were elementary Treatifes 
of geometry, which are now loft ; and that in 
them the axioms were diftinguifhed from the 
propositions which require proof. 

To fuppofe, that fo per feci; a fyftem as that of 
Euclid's Elements was produced by one man, 
without any preceding model or materials, would 
be to fuppofe Euclid more than a man. We 
afcribe to him as much as the weaknefs of 
human underftanding will permit, if we fup- 
pofe that the inventions in geometry, which had 
been made in a tract, of preceding ages, were 
by him not only carried much further, but di- 
gefted into fo admirable a fyftem, that his work 
obfcured all that went before it, and made them 
be forgot and loft. 

Perhaps, in like manner, the writings of Ari- 
stotle with regard to firft principles, and with 
regard to many other abftract fubjecls, may have 
occafioned the lofs of what had been written 
upon thofe fubjects by more ancient Philofo- 

Whatever may be in this, in his fecond book 
upon demonftration he has treated very fully of 
firft principles j and though he has not attempt- 
ed any enumeration of them, he mows very 
clearly, that all demonftration muft be built upon 



truths which are evident of themfelves, but can- 
not be demonftrated. His whole doctrine of 
fyllogifms is grounded upon a few axioms, from 
which he endeavours to demonftrate the rules 
of fyllogifm in a mathematical way ; a d in 
his topics he points out many of the firft prin- 
ciples of probable reafoning. 

As long as the philofophy of Aristotle pre- 
vailed, it was held as a fixed point, that all proof 
mult be drawn from principles already known 
and granted. 

We muft obferve, however, that, in that phi- 
lofophy, many things were affumed as firft prin- 
ciples, which have no juft claim to that charac- 
ter ; fuch as, that the earth is at reft ; that Na- 
ture abhors a vacuum ; that there is no change 
in the heavens above the fphere of the moon ; 
that the heavenly bodies move in circles, that 
being the moft perfect figure ; that bodies do 
not gravitate in their proper place ; and many 

The Peripatetic philofophy, therefore, inftead 
of being deficient in firft principles, was redun- 
dant ; inftead of rejecting thofe that are truly 
fuch, it adopted, as firft principles, many vulgar 
prejudices and rafh judgments : And this feems 
in general to have been the fpirit of ancient, 

It is true, there were, among the ancients, 

fceptical Philofophers who profeffed to have no 

E b 3 principles^ 

39 ESSAY VI. [CHAP. 7. 

principles, and held it to be the greateft virtue 
in a Philofopher to with- hold affent, and keep 
his judgment in a perfeft equilibrium between 
contradictory opinions. But though this fed 
was defended by fome perfons of great erudition 
and acutenefs, it died of itielf, and the dogma- 
tic philofophy of Aristotle obtained a com- 
plete triumph over it. 

What Mr Hume fays of thofe who are fcepti- 
cal with regard to moral diltinctions, feems to 
have had its accomplishment in the ancient left 
of Sceptics, " The only way, fays he, of con- 
" verting antagonists of this kind, is to leave 
" them to themfelves ; for finding that nobody 
a keeps up the controverfy with them, it is pro- 
V bable they will at laft of themfelves, from mere 
" wearinefs, come over to the fide of common 
¥« fenfe and reufon," 

Setting afide this final fed of the Sceptics, 
which was extinct many ages before the authority 
of Aristotle declined, 1 know of no oppofition 
made to firft principles among the ancients. The 
difpcfition was, as has been obferved, not to op- 
pofe, but to multiply them beyond meaiure. 

Men have always been prone, when they leave 
one extreme to run into the oppofite ; and this 
fpirit in the ancient philoiophy to multiply firft 
principles beyond reafon, was a ftrong prefage, 
that, when the authority of the Peripatetic fyf- 



tern was at an end, the next reigning fyftem 
would diminifh their number beyond reafon. 

This accordingly happened in that great revo- 
lution of the philofophical republic brought a- 
bout by Des Cartes. That truly great refor- 
mer in philofophy, cautious to avoid the fnare in 
which Aristotle was taken, of admiting things 
as firft principles too raihly, refolved to doubt of 
every thing, and to with-hold his afTent, until it 
was forced by the clearer!: evidence. 

Thus Des Cartes brought himfelf into that 
very ftate of fufpenfe, which the ancient Scep- 
tics recommended as the higher! perfection of a 
wife man, and the only road to tranquillity of 
mind. But he did not remain long in this ftate ; 
his doubt did not arife from defpair of finding 
the truth, but from caution, that he might not 
be impofed upon, and embrace a cloud inftead of 
a goddefs. 

His very doubting convinced him of his own 
exiftence ; for that which does not exift, can 
neither doubt, nor believe, nor reafon. 

Thus he emerged from univerfal fcepticifm by 
this fhort enthymeme, cogito ergo fum. 

This enthymeme confifts of an antecedent pro- 
portion, / think, and a conclufion drawn from it, 
therefore I exift. 

If it mould be afked, how Des Cartes came 

to be certain of the antecedent propofition, it is 

evident, that for this he trufted to the teftimony 

Bb 4 of 

392 essay vi. [chap. 7, 

of confcioufnefs. He was confcious that he 
thought, and needed no other argument. 

So that the firft principle which he adopts in 
this famous enthymeme is this, That thofe doubts, 
and thoughts, and reafonings, of which he was 
confcious, did certainly exift, and that his con- 
fcioufnefs put their exiftence beyond all doubt. 

It might have been objected to this firft prin- 
ciple of Des Cartes, how do you know that 
your confcioufnefs cannot deceive you ? You 
have fuppofed, that all you fee, and hear, and 
handle, may be an illuiion. Why therefore 
fhould the power of confcioufnefs have this pre- 
rogative, to be believed implicitly, when all our 
other powers are fuppofed fallacious ? 

To this objection, I know no other anfwer that 
can be made, but that we find it impoffible to 
doubt of things of which we are confcious. The 
conftitution of our nature forces this belief upon 
us irrefiftibly. 

This is true, and is fufficient to juftify Des 
Cartes, in affuming, as a firft principle, the 
exiftence of thought, of which he was con- 

He ought, however, to have gone further in 
this track, and to have confidered whether there 
may not be other firft principles which ought to 
be adopted for the fame reafon. But he did not 
fee this to be neceffary, conceiving that, upon 



this one firft principle, he could fupport the 
whole fabric of human knowledge. 

To proceed to the conclufion of Des Cartes's 
enthymeme. From the exiftence of his thought 
he infers his own exiftence. Here he afTumes 
another firft principle, not a contingent, but a 
neceffary one ; to wit, that where there is 
thought, there muft be a thinking being or mind. 

Having thus eftablifhed his own exiftence, he 
proceeds to prove the exiftence of a fupreme and 
infinitely perfect Being ; and, from the perfection 
of the Deity, he infers that his fenfes, his me- 
mory, and the other faculties which God had 
given him, are not fallacious. 

Whereas other men, from the beginning of the 
w r orld, had taken for granted, as a firft principle, 
the truth and reality of what they perceive by 
their fenfes, and from thence inferred the exift- 
ence of a Supreme Author and Maker of the 
world, Des Cartes took a contrary courfe, con- 
ceiving that the teitimony of our fenfes, and of 
all our faculties, excepting that of conicioufhefs, 
ought not to be taken for granted, but to be pro- 
ved by argument. 

Perhaps fome may think that Des Cartes 
meant only to admit no other firft principle of 
contingent truths befides that of confcioufnefs ; 
but that he allowed the axioms of mathematics, 
and of other neceffary truths, to be received 
without proof- 

394 .essay vi. [chap. 7. 

But I apprehend this was not his intention : 
For the truth of mathematical axioms muft de- 
pend upon the truth of the faculty by which we 
judge of them. If the faculty be fallacious, we 
may be deceived by trufting to it. Therefore, 
as he fuppofes that all our faculties, excepting 
confcioufnefs, may be fallacious, and attempts 
to prove by argument that they are not, it fol- 
lows, that, according to his principles, even ma- 
thematical axioms require proof. Neither did 
he allow that there are any neceffary truths, but 
maintained, that the truths which are commonly 
fo called, depend upon the will of God. And we 
find his followers, who may be fuppofed to under- 
itand his principles, agree in maintaining, that 
the knowledge of our own exiftence is the firft 
and fundamental principle from which all know- 
ledge mull be deduced by one who proceeds re- 
gularly in philofophy. 

There is, no doubt, a beauty in railing a large 
fabric of knowledge upon a few firft principles. 
The ftately fabric of mathematical knowledge, 
railed upon the foundation of a few. axioms and 
definitions, charms every beholder. Des Cartes, 
who was well acquainted with this beauty in the 
mathematical fciences, feems to have been ambi- 
tious to give the fame beautiful fimplicity to his 
iyftem of philofophy ; and therefore fought only 
one firft principle as the foundation of all our 
knowledge, at leaft of contingent truths. 



And fo far has his authority prevailed, that 
thofe who came after him have almoft univerfal- 
ly followed him in this track. This, therefore, 
may be confidered as the fpirit of modern philofo- 
phy, to allow of no firil principles of contingent 
truths but this one, that the thoughts and opera, 
tions of our own minds, of which we are confci- 
ous, are felf- evidently real and true ; but that 
every thing elfe that is contingent is to be pro- 
ved by argument. 

The exiilence of a material world, and of what 
we perceive by our fenfes, is not felf-evident, ac- 
cording to this philofophy. Des Cartes found- 
ed it upon this argument, That God, who hath 
given us our fenfes, and all our faculties, is no 
deceiver, and therefore they are not fallacious. 

I endeavoured to mow, that if it be not ad- 
mitted as a flrft principle, that our faculties are 
not fallacious, nothing elfe can be admitted ; and 
that it is impoffible to prove this by argument, 
unlefs God mould give us new faculties to lit in 
judgment upon the old. 

Father Maleeranche agreed with Des Car- 
tes, that the exiftence of a material world re- 
quires proof; but being diflatisfied with Des 
Cartes' s argument from the perfection of the 
Deity, thought that the only folid proof is from 
divine revelation. 

Arnauld, who was engaged in controverfy 
with Malebranche, approves of his antagonift 


396 essay vi. [chap. 7. 

in offering an argument to prove the exiftence 
of the material world, but objects to the folidity 
of his argument, and offers other arguments of 
his own. 

Mr Norris, a great admirer of Des Cartes 
and of Malebranche, feems to have thought 
all the arguments offered by them and by Ar- 
nauld to be weak, and confeffes, that we have 
at beft only probable evidence of the exiftence 
of the material world. 

Mr Locke acknowledges, that the evidence 
we have of this point is neither intuitive nor de- 
monftrative ; yet he thinks it may be called 
knowledge, and it by the name of 
fenfitive knowledge ; and, as the ground of this 
fenlitive knowledge, he offers fome weak argu- 
ments, which would rather tempt one to doubt 
than to believe. 

At laft Bifhop Berkeley and Arthur Col- 
lier, without any knowledge of each other, as 
far as appears by their writings, undertook to 
prove, that there neither is nor can be a material 
world. The excellent ftyle and elegant compo- 
lition of the former have made his writings to 
be known and read, and this fyftem to be attri- 
buted to him only, as if Collier had never 

Both, indeed, owe fo much to Malebranche, 
that if we take out of his fyftem the peculiari- 
ties of our feeing all things in God, and our 



learning the exiftence of an external world from 
divine revelation, what remains is juft the fyftem 
of Bifhop Berkeley. I make this obfervation by 
the way, in jullice to a foreign author, to whom 
Britifh authors feem not to have allowed all that 
is due. 

Mr Hume hath adopted Bifhop Berkeley's 
arguments againft the exiftence of matter, and 
thinks them unanfwerable. 

We may obferve, that this great Metaphy- 
lician, though in general he declares in fa- 
vour of univerfal fcepticifm, and therefore may 
feem to have no firft principles at all, yet, with 
Des Cartes, he always acknowledges the reali- 
ty of thofe thoughts and operations of mind of 
which we are confcious. So that he yields the 
antecedent of Des Cartes's enthymeme cogito, 
but denies the conclufion ergo f inn, the mind be- 
ing, according to him, nothing but that train 
of impreffions and ideas of which we are con- 

Thus we fee, that the modern philofophy, of 
which Des Cartes may juftly be accounted the 
founder, being built upon the ruins of the Peri- 
patetic, has a fpirit quite oppofite, and runs in- 
to a contrary extreme. The Peripatetic not 
only adopted, as firft principles, thofe which 
mankind have always refted upon in their mod 
important tranfactions, but, along with them, 
many vulgar prejudices ; fo that this fyftem was 


39^ ESSAY Yl. [CHAP. 7* 

founded upon a wide bottom, but in many parts 
unfound. The modern fyftem has narrowed the 
foundation fo much, that every fuperftrudture 
raifed upon it appears top-heavy. 

From the fmgle principle of the exiftence of 
our own thoughts, very little, if any thing, can 
be deduced by juft reafoning, efpecially if we 
fuppofe that all our other faculties may be falla- 

Accordingly, we find that Mr Hume was not 
the firft that was led into fcepticifm by the want 
of firft principles. For foon after Des Cartes, 
there arofe a feet in France called Egoifts, who 
maintained, that we have no evidence of the 
exiftence of any thing but ourfelves. 

Whether thefe Egoifts, like Mr Hume, be- 
lieved themfelves to be nothing but a train of 
ideas and impreffions, or to have a more perma- 
nent exiftence, I have not learned, having never 
feen any of their writings ; nor do I know whe- 
ther any of this feet did write in fupport of their 
principles. One would think, they who did not 
believe that there was any perfon to read, could 
have little inducement to write, unlefs they were 
prompted by that inward monitor, which Per- 
sius makes to be the fource of genius and the 
teacher of arts. There can be no doubt, how- 
ever, of the exiftence of fuch a fecf, as they are 
mentioned by many authors, and refuted by fome, 



particularly by Buffier, in his Treatife of Fir(l 

Thofe Egoifls and Mr Hume feem to me 'to 
have reafoned more confequentially from Des 
Cartes principle than he did himfelf ; and in- 
deed I cannot help thinking, that all who have 
followed Des Cartes method, of requiring 
proof by argument of every thing except the ex- 
iftence of their own thoughts, have efcaped the 
abyfs of fcepticifm by the help of weak reafon- 
ing and ftrong faith more than by any other 
means. And they feem to me to act more con- 
fidently, who having rejected the firfl principles 
on which belief muft be grounded, have no be- 
lief, than they, who, like the others, rejecting 
firfl; principles, muft yet have a fyilem of be- 
lief, without any folid foundation on which it 
may ftand. 

The Philofophers I have hitherto mentioned., 
after the time of Des Cartes, have all followed 
his method, in refting upon the truth of their 
own thoughts as a firfl principle, but requiring 
arguments for the proof of every other truth of 
a contingent nature ; but none of them, except- 
ing Mr Locke, has exprefsly treated of firfl 
principles, or given any opinion of their utility 
or inutility. We only collect their opinion from 
their following Des Capites in requiring proof, 
or pretending to offer proof of the exiftence of 
a material world, which furely ought to be re- 

40° ESSAY VI. [CHAP. 7. 

ceived as a firft principle, if any thing be, be- 
yond what we are confcious of. 

I proceed, therefore, to confider what Mr 
Locke has faid on the fubject of firft principles 
or maxims. 

I have not the leaf! doubt of this author's 
candour in what he fome where fays, that his 
eflay was moftly fpun out of his own thoughts. 
Yet it is certain, that, in many of the notions 
which we are wont to afcribe to him, others were 
before him, particularly, Des Cartes, Gassendi, 
and Hobbes. Nor is it at all to be thought 
ftrange, that ingenious men, when they are got 
into the fame track, mould hit upon the fame 

But, in the definition which he gives of know- 
ledge in general, and in his notions concerning 
axioms or firft principles, I know none that went 
before him, though he has been very generally 
followed in both. 

His definition of knowledge, that it confifts 
folely in the perception of the agreement or dif- 
agreement of our ideas, has been already con- 
sidered. But fuppofing it to be juft, ftill it would 
be true, that fome agreements and difagree- 
ments of ideas muft be immediately perceived ; 
andfuch agreements or difagreements, when they 
■ are exprefTed by affirmative or negative propo- 
rtions, are firft principles, becaufe their truth is 



immediately difcerned as foon as they are un- 

This I think is granted by Mr Locke, book 4. 
chap. 2. " There is a part of our knowledge, 
" fays he, which we may call intuitive- In this 
" the mind is at no pains of proving or examin- 
" ing, but perceives the truth as the eye does 
" light, only by being directed toward it. And 
" this kind of knowledge is the cleared and moll 
" certain that human frailty is capable of. This 
" part of knowledge is irrefi liable, and, like 
" bright funlhine, forces itfelf immediately to be 
" perceived, as foon as ever the mind turns its 
" view that way." 

He further obferves, " That this intuitive 
" knowledge is necefTary to conned all tne Heps 
" of a demonftration." 

From this, I think, it neceffarily follows, that, 
in every branch of knowledge, we mull make 
life of truths that are intuitively known, in order 
to deduce from them fuch as require proof. 

But I cannot reconcile this with what he (ays, 
feet. 8. of the fame chapter. " The neceffity 
" of this intuitive knowledge in every Hep of 
" fcientifical or demonftrative reafoning gave 
" occafion, I imagine, to that miftaken axiom, 
" that all reafoning was ex preecegmtis et prae- 
" conceffis, which, how far it is miftaken, I mail 
" have occafion to fliew more at large, when I 
" come to confider proportions, and particular- 

Vol. 11, C c » ly 

402 ESSAY VI. [CHAP. 7. 

" ly thofe propofitions which are called maxims, 
" and to fhew, that it is by a miftake that they 
" are fuppofed to be the foundation of all our 
*' knowledge and reafonings." 

I have carefully confidered the chapter on 
maxims, which Mr Locke here refers to ; and 
though one would exped, from the quotation laft 
made, that it fhould run contrary to what I have 
before delivered concerning firft principles, I 
find only two or three fentences in it, and thofe 
chiefly incidental, to which 1 do not affent ; and 
I am always happy in agreeing with a Philofo- 
pher whom I fo highly refpedt. 

He endeavours to fhow, that axioms or intui- 
tive truths are not innate. . 

To this I agree. I maintain only, that when 
the underftanding is ripe, and when we diltincT;- 
ly apprehend fuch truths, we immediately aflfent 
to them. 

He obferves, that felf-evidence is not peculiar 
to thofe propofitions which pafs under the name 
of axioms, and have the dignity of axioms a- 
fcribed to them. 

I grant that there are innumerable felf-evident 
propofitions, which have neither dignity nor 
utility, and therefore deferve not the name of 
axioms, as that name is commonly underftood to 
imply not only felf-evidence, but fome degree of 
dignity or utility. That a man is a man, and 
that a man is not a horfe, are felf-evident propo- 
fitions ; 


fitions ; but they are, as Mr Locke very juftly 
calls them, trifling propofitions. Tillotson 
very wittily fays of fuch propofitions, that they 
are fo forfeited with truth, that they are good 
for nothing ; and as they deferve not the name 
of axioms, fo neither do they deferve the name 
of knowledge. 

He obferves, that fuch trifling felf-evident 
propofitions as we have named are not derived 
from axioms, and therefore that all our know- 
ledge is not derived from axioms. 

I grant that they are not derived from axioms, 
becaufe they are themfelves felf-evident. But it 
is an abufe of words to call them knowledge, as 
it is, to call them axioms ; for no man can be 
faid to be the wifer or more knowing for having 
millions of them in (lore. 

He obferves, that the particular propofitions 
contained under a general axiom are no lefs felf- 
evident than the general axiom, and that they 
are fooner known and underftood. Thus, it is as 
evident, that my hand is lefs than my body, as 
that a part is lefs than the whole ; and I know 
the truth of the particular propofition, fooner 
than that of the general. 

This is true. A man cannot perceive the truth 

of a general axiom, fuch as, that a part is lefs 

than the whole, until he has the general notions 

of a part and a whole formed in his mind ; and, 

C c 2 before 

4C4 essay vi. [chap. 7. 

before he has thefe general notions, he may per- 
ceive that his hand is lefs than his body. 

A great part of this chapter on maxims is le- 
velled againft a notion, which, it feems, fome 
have entertained, that all our knowledge is de- 
rived from thefe two maxims, to wit, whatever 
is, is ; and it is impoffible for the fame thing to 
be, and not to be. 

This 1 take to be a ridiculous notion, juftly 
deferving the treatment which Mr Locke has 
given it, if it at all merited his notice. Thefe 
are identical propositions ; they are trifling, and 
furfeited with truth : No knowledge can be de- 
rived from them. 

Having mentioned how far I agree with Mr 
Locke concerning maxims or firft principles, I 
fhaii next take notice of two or three things, 
wherein i cannot agree with him. 

in the feventh fection of this chapter, he fays, 
That concerning the real exifcence of all other 
beings, befides ourfelves, and a firft caufe, there 
are no maxims. 

I have endeavoured to fhow, that there are 
maxims or firft principles with regard to other 
exiftences. Mr Lccke acknowledges that we 
have a knowledge of fuch exiftences, which, he 
fays, is neither intuitive nor demonftrative, and 
which therefore he calls fenfitive knowledge. It 
is demonstrable, and w T as long ago demonflrated 
]by Aristotle, that every proportion to which 

w r e 


We give a rational affent, muft either have its 
evidence in itfelf, or derive it from fome antece- 
dent proportion. And the fame thing may be 
faid of the antecedent propolition. As, therefore, 
we cannot go back to antecedent propofitions 
without end, the evidence mure at lail reft upon 
propofitions, one or more, which have their evi- 
dence inthemfelves, that is, upon firft principles. 

As to the evidence of our own exiftence, and 
of the exiftence of a firft caufe, Mr Locke does 
not fay whether it refts upon firft principles or 
not. But it is manifeft, from what he has faid 
upon both, that it does. 

With regard to our own exiftence, fays he, 
we perceive it fo plainly, and fo certainly, that 
it neither needs nor is capable of any proof. 
This is as much as to fay, that our own exiftence 
is a firft principle ; for it is applying to this 
truth the very definition of a firft principle. 

He adds, that if I doubt, that very doubt 
makes me perceive my own exiftence, and will 
not fuffer me to doubt of that. If I feel pain, 
X have as certain perception of my exiftence as 
of the pain I feel. 

Here we have two firft principles plainly im- 
plied : Firft, That my feeling pain, or being con- 
fcious of pain, is a certain evidence of the real 
exiftence of that pain. And, fecondly^ That 
pain cannot exift without a mind, or being that 
is pained. That thefe are firft principles, and 
incapable of proof, Mr Locke acknowledges. 
C c 3 And 

406 essay vi. [chap. 7. 

And it is certain, that if they are not true, we 
can have no evidence of our own exiftence. For 
if we may feel pain when no pain really ^xifts, 
or if pain may exift without any being that is 
pained, then it is certain that our feeling pain 
can give us no evidence of our exiftence. 

Thus it appears, that the evidence of our own 
exiftence, according to the view that Mr Locke 
gives of it, is grounded upon two of thofe firft 
principles which we had occafion to mention. 

If we confider the argument he has given for 
the exiftence of a firft intelligent caufe, it is no 
lefs evident that it is grounded upon other two 
of them. The firft, That what begins to exift 
mull have a caufe of its exiftence ; and the fe- 
cond, That an unintelligent and unthinking 
being, cannot be the caufe of beings that are 
thinking and intelligent. Upon thefe two prin- 
, ciples, he argues very convincingly for the ex- 
iftence of a firft intelligent caufe of things. And, 
if thefe principles are not true, we can have no 
proof of the exiftence of a firft caufe, either from 
our own exiftence, or from the exiftence of other 
things that fall within our view. 

Another thing advanced by Mr Locke upon 
this fubjecl, is, that no fcience is, or hath been 
built upon maxims. 

Surely Mr Locke was not ignorant of geo- 
metry, which hath been built upon maxims pre- 
fixed to the elements, as far back as we are able 



to trace it. But though they had not been pre- 
fixed, which was a matter of utility rather than 
neceffity, yet it rauft be granted, that every de- 
monstration in geometry is grounded, either up- 
on propositions formerly demonftrated,; or upon 
felf-evident principles. 

Mr Locke further fays, that maxims are not 
of ufe to help men forward in' the advancement 
of the fciences, or new difcoveries of yet un- 
known truths : That Newton, in the difcoveries 
he has made in his never enough to be admired 
book, has not been affifted by the general max- 
ims, whatever is, is ; or the whole is greater than 
a part, or the like. 

I anfwer, the firft of thefe is, as was before 
obferved, an identical trifling propofition, of no 
ufe in mathematics, or in any other fcience. 
The fecond is often ufed by Newton, and by 
all Mathematicians, and many demonftrations 
reft upon it. In general, Newton, as well as 
all other Mathematicians, grounds his demon- 
ftrations of mathematical propofitions upon the 
axioms laid down by Euclid, or upon propofi- 
tions which have been before demonftrated by 
help of thofe axioms. 

But tit deferves to be particularly obferved, 
that Newton, intending in the third book of 
his Principla, to give a more feientihe form to 
the phy iical part of aftronomy, which he had at 
firft compofed in a popular form, thought pro- 
G c 4 per 

408 essay vi. [chap. 7. 

per to follow the example of Euclid, and to 
lay down firft, in what he calls, Regula Philofo- 
pbandi, and in his Phenomena, the firft prin- 
ciples which he aftumes in his reafoning. 

Nothing, therefore, could have been more un- 
luckily adduced by Mr Locke to fupport his 
avsrfion to firft principles, than the example of 
Sir Isaac Newton, who, by laying down the 
firft principles upon which he reafons in thofe 
parts of natural philofophy which he cultivated, 
has given a liability to that fcience which it never 
had before, and which it will retain to the end 
of the world. 

I am now to give fome account of a Philofo- 
pher, who wrote exprefsly on the fubject of firft 
principles, after Mr Locke. 

Pere Buffier, a French Jefuit, firft publifh- 
ed his Traiii des premiers Veritez, et de la four ce 
de nos jugements, in 8vo, if I miftake not, in the 
year 1724. It was afterwards publifhed in fo- 
lio, as a part of his Cours des fciences. Paris,. 

He defines firft principles to be proportions 
10 clear, that they can neither be proved, nor 
combated by thofe that are more clear. 

The firft fource of firft principles he mentions, 
is that intimate conviction which every man has 
of his own exiftence, and of what paries in his 
own mind. Some Philosophers, he obferves, ad- 
mitted thefe as firft principles, who were unwil- 


ling to admit any others ; and he mows the 
ftrange confequences that follow from this fyftem. 

A fecond fource of firft principles he makes 
to be common fenfe ; which, he obferves, Philo- 
fophers have not been wont to confider. He de- 
fines it to be, the difpofition which Nature has 
planted in all men, or the far greater part, which 
leads them, when they come to the ufe of reafon, 
to form a common and uniform judgment upon 
objects which are not objects of confcioufnefs, 
nor are founded on any antecedent judgment. 

He mentions not as a full enumeration, but as 
a fpecimen, the following principles of common 

1. That there are other beings, and .other 
men in the univerfe, belides myfelf. 

2,. That there is in them fomething that is 
called truth, wifdom, prudence, and that thefe 
things are not purely arbitrary. 

3. That there is fomething in me which I 
call intelligence, and fomething which is not that 
intelligence, which I call my body, and that thefe 
things have different properties. 

4. That all men are not in a confpiracy to 
deceive me and impofe upon my credulity. 

5. That what has not intelligence Cannot pro- 
duce the effects of intelligence, nor can pieces 
of matter thrown together by chance form any 
regular work, fuch as a clock or watch. 


410 ESSAY VI. [CHAP. 7. 

He explains very particularly the feveral parts 
of his definition of common fenfe, and mews 
how the dictates of common fenfe may be di- 
ilinguifhed from common prejudices ; and then 
enters into a particular confideration of the pri- 
mary truths that concern being in general ; the 
truths that concern thinking beings ; thofe that 
concern body ; and thofe on which the various 
branches of human knowledge are grounded. 

I fhall not enter into a detail of his fentiments 
on thefe fubjecTis. I think there is more which 
I take to be original in this treatife, than in 
mofl books of the metaphyfical kind I have met 
with ; that many of his notions are folid ; and 
that others, which I cannot altogether approve, 
are ingenious. 

The other writers I have mentioned, -after 
Des Cartes, may, I think, without impropriety, 
be called Cartefians : For though they differ 
from Des Cartes in fome things, and contra- 
dict him in others, yet they fet out from the 
fame principles, and follow the fame method, ad- 
mitting no other firft principle with regard to the 
exiftence of things but their own exiftence, and 
the exiftence of thofe operations of mind of 
which they are confcious, and requiring that the 
exiftence of a material world, and the exiftence 
of other men and things, mould be proved by 



This method of philofophifing is common to 
Des Cartes, Malebranche, Arnauld, Locke, 
Norris, Collier, Berkeley, and Hume; and, 
as it was introduced by Des Cartes, I call it 
the Cartefian fyftem, and thofe who follow it 
Cartefians, not intending any difrefpect by this 
term, but to fignify a particular method of phi- 
lofophifing common to them all, and begun by 
Des Cartes. 

Some of thefe have gone the utmofl length 
in .fcepticifm, leaving no exiftence in Nature 
but that of ideas and impreffions. Some have 
endeavoured to throw off the belief of a mate- 
rial world only, and to leave us ideas and fpi- 
rits. All of them have fallen into very grofs 
paradoxes, which can never lit eafy upon the 
human underftanding, and which, though adop- 
ted in the clofet, men find themfelves under a 
neceflity of throwing off and difclaiming when 
they enter into fociety. 

Indeed, in my judgment, thofe who have rea- 
foned moft acutely and confequentially upon 
this fyftem, are they that have gone deeped into 

Father Buffier, however, is no Carteiian in 
this fenfe. He feems to have perceived the de- 
fects of the Cartefian fyftem while it was in the 
meridian of its glory, and to have been aware 
that a ridiculous fcepticifm is the natural hTue 
of it, and therefore nobly attempted to lay a 


412 ESSAY VI. [CHAP. J. 

broader foundation for human knowledge, and 
has the honour of being the firft, as far as I 
know, after Aristotle, who has given the 
world a juft treatife upon firft principles. 

Some late writers, particularly Dr Oswald, 
Dr Beatie, and Dr Campbell, have been led 
into a way of thinking fomewhat limilar to that 
of Buffier ; the two former, as I have reafon to 
believe, without any intercourfe with one ano- 
ther, or any knowledge of what Buffier had 
wrote on the fubjedt. Indeed, a man who 
thinks, and who is acquainted with the philo- 
fophy of Mr Ha me, will very naturally be led to 
apprehend, that, to fupport the fabric of human 
knowledge, fome other principles are neceffary 
than thofe of Des Cartes and Mr Locke. 
Buffier muft be acknowledged to have the me- 
rit of having difcovered this, before the confe- 
quences of the Cartefian fyflem were fo fully 
difplayed as they have been by Mr Hume. But 
I am apt to think, that the man who does not 
fee this now, mull have but a fuperficial know- 
ledge of thefe fubjeds. 

The three writers above mentioned have my 
high efleem and affection as men \ but I intend 
to fay nothing of them as writers upon this fub- 
ject, that I may not incur the cenfure of parti- 
ality. Two of them have been joined fo clofely 
with me in the animadverfions of a celebrated 



writer, that we may be thought too near of kin 
to give our teftimony of one another. 


Of Prejudices, the Caufes of Error, 

^UR intellectual powers are wifely fitted by 
the Author of our nature for the difcove 
of truth, as far as fuits our prefent ftate. Erro* 
is not their natural irTue, any more than difeafe 
is, of the natural ftruclure of the body. Yet, as 
we are liable to various difeafes of body from 
accidental caufes, external and internal ; fo we 
are, from like caufes, liable to wrong judg- 

Medical writers have endeavoured to enume- 
rate the difeafes of the body, and to reduce them 
to a fyftem, under the name of nofology ; and it 
were to be wifhed that we had alfo a nofology 
of the human underftanding. 

When we know a diforder of the body, we 
are often at a lofs to find the proper remedy ; 
but in mod cafes the diforders of the under- 
(landing point out their remedies fo plainly, that 
he who knows the one rauft know the other. 

Many authors have furnifhed ufeful materials 
for this purpofe, and fome have endeavoured to 
reduce them to a fyftem. I like belt the general 


414 ESSAY VI. [chap. 8„ 

divifion given of them by Lord Bacon in his 
fifth book Be augmentis fcientiarum, and more 
fully treated in his Novum Organum. He di- 
vides them into four claiTes, idola tribus, idola 
fpecus y idola fori, and idola theatri. The names 
are perhaps fanciful ; but I think the divifion 
judicious, like moll of the productions of that 
wonderful genius. And as this divifion was firfl 
made by him, he may be indulged the privilege 
of giving names to its feveral members. 

I propofe in this chapter to explain the feve- 
ral members of this divifion, according to the 
meaning of the author, and to give inftances of 
each, without confining myfelf to thofe which 
Lord Bacon has given, and without pretending 
to a complete enumeration. 

To every bias of the underflanding, by which 
a man may be milled in judging, or drawn into 
error, Lord Bacon gives the name of an idol. 
The underflanding, in its natural and belt flate, 
pays its homage to truth only. The caufes of 
error are confidered by him as fo many falfe 
deities, who receive the homage which is due 
only to truth. 

The firfl clafs are the idola tribus. Thefe are 
fuch as befet the whole human fpecies ; fo that 
every man is in danger from them. They arife j 
from principles of the human ccnflituticn, which | 
are highly uieful and neceflary in our prefent 

ilate j 


ftate ; but, by their excefs or defect, or wrong 
direction, may lead us into error. 

As the active principles of the human frame 
are wifely contrived by the Author of our be- 
ing, for the direction of our actions, and yet, 
without proper regulation and reftraint, are apt 
to lead us wrong ; fo it is alfo with regard to 
thofe parts of our conftitution that have influence 
upon our opinions. Of this we may take the 
following inftances : 

1. Firft, Men are prone to be led too much by 
authority in their opinions. 

In the firft part of life we have no other guide ; 
and without a difpolition to receive implicitly 
Avhat we are taught, we mould be incapable of 
inftruction, and incapable of improvement. 

When judgment is ripe, there are many things 
in which we are incompetent judges. In fuch 
matters, it is moil reafonable to rely upon the 
judgment of thofe whom we believe to be com- 
petent and difinterefted. The higher! court of 
judicature in the nation relies upon the authori- 
ty of lawyers and phyficians in matters belong- 
ing to their refpective profeffions. 

Even in matters which we have accefs to know, 
authority always will have, and ought to have, 
more or lefs weight, in proportion to the evidence 
on which our own judgment refts, and the opi- 
nion we have of the judgment and candour of 
thofe who differ from us, or agree with us. The 


416 ESSAY VI. [chap. 8. 

modeft man, confcious of his own fallibility in 
judging, is in danger of giving too much to au- 
thority ; the arrogant of giving too little. 

In all matters belonging to our cognifance, 
every man mull be determined by his own final 
judgment, otherwife he does not acl the part of 
a rational being. Authority may add weight to 
one fcale ; but the man holds the balance, and 
judges what weight he ought to allow to autho- 

If a man mould even claim infallibility, we 
mult judge of his title to that prerogative. If a 
man ^pretend to be an Ambaffador from heaven, 
we mull judge of his credentials. No claim can 
deprive us of this right, or excufe us for ne- 
glecting to exercife it. 

As therefore our regard to authority may be 
either too great or too fmall, the bias of human 
nature feems to lean to the firlt of thefe ex- 
tremes ; and I believe it is good for men in ge- 
neral that it Ihould do fo. 

When this bias concurs with an indifference 
about truth, its operation will be the more 

The love of truth is natural to man, andftrong 
in every well-difpofed mind. But it may be 
overborn by party- zeal, by vanity, by the deli re 
of victory, or even by lazinefs. When it is fu- 
perior to thefe, it is a manly virtue, and requires 



the exercife of induftry, fortitude, felf-denial, 
candour, and opennefs to conviction. 

As there are perfons in the world of fo mean 
and abject a fpirit, that they rather choofe to owe 
their fubfiftence to the charity of others, than 
by induftry to acquire fome property of their 
own ; fo there are many more who may be call- 
ed mere beggars with regard to their opinions. 
Through lazinefs and indifference about truth, 
they leave to others the drudgery of digging for 
this commodity ; they can have enough at fe- 
cond hand to ferve their occalions. Their con- 
cern is not to know w hat is true, but what is 
faid and thought on fuch fubjeds ; and their un- 
derfianding, like their clothes, is cut according 
to the faihion. 

This diftemper of the imderftanding has taken 
fo deep root in a great part of mankind, that it 
can hardly be faid that they ufe their own judg- 
ment in things that do not concern their tempo- 
ral intereft ; nor is it peculiar to the ignorant \ 
it infedts all ranks. We may guefs their opinions 
when we know where they were born, of what 
parents, how educated, and what company they 
have kept. Thefe circumftances determine their 
opinions in religion, in politics, and in philofo- 

2. Kfecond general prejudice arifes from a dif- 
pofition to meafure things lefs known, and lefs fa- 

Vol. II, D d miliar. 

41 8 ESSAY VI. [chap. 8. 

miliar, by thofe that are better known and more 

This is the foundation of analogical reafoning, 
to which we have a great pronenefs by nature, 
and to it indeed we owe a great part of our 
knowledge. It would be abfurd to lay afide this 
kind of reafoning altogether, and it is difficult to 
judge how far we may venture upon it. The 
bias of human nature is to judge from too flight 

The objects of fenfe engrofs our thoughts in 
the firft part of life, and are moil familiar through 
the whole of it. Hence in all ages men have 
been prone to attribute the human figure and 
human paffions and frailties to fuperior intelli- 
gences, and even to the Supreme -Being. 

There is a difpofition in men to materialize 
every thing, if I may be allowed the expreffion ; 
that is, to apply the notions we have of material 
objects to things of another nature. Thought is 
confidered as analogous to motion in a body ; 
and as bodies are put in motion by impulfes, and 
by impreffions made upon them by contiguous 
objects, we are apt to conclude that the mind is 
made to think by impreffions made upon it, and 
that there muft be fome kind of contiguity be- 
tween it and the objects of thought. Hence the 
theories of ideas and impreffions have fo general- 
ly prevailed. 



Becaufe the moft perfect works of human ar- 
tifts are made after a model, and of materials 
that before exifted, the ancient Philofophers uni- 
verfally believed that the world was made of a 
pre-exiftent uncxeated matter ; and many of 
them, that there were eternal and uncreated mo- 
dels of every fpecies of things which God made, 

The miftakes in common life, which are ow- 
ing to this prejudice, are innumerable, and can- 
not efcape the flighted obfervation. Men judge 
of other men by themfelves, or by the fmall 
circle of their acquaintance. The felfifh man 
thinks all pretences to benevolence and public 
fpirit mere hypocrify or felf-deceit. The 
generous and open hearted believe fair pretences 
too eafily, and are apt to think men better than 
they really are. The abandoned and profligate 
can hardly be perfuaded that there is any fuch 
thing as real virtue in the world. The ruftic 
forms his notions of the manners and characters 
of men from thofe of his country village, and is 
eafily duped when he comes into a great city. 

It is commonly taken for granted, that this 
narrow way of judging of men is to be cured only 
by an extenlive intercourfe with men of different 
ranks, profeffions, and nations ; and that the man 
whofe acquaintance has been confined within a 
narrow circle, mufl have many prejudices and 
narrow notions, which a more extenfive inter- 
courfe would have cured. 

D d 2 3. Men 

420 ESSAY VI. [CHAP. 8. 

3. Men are often led into error by the love of 
Simplicity, which difpofes us to reduce things to 
few principles, and to conceive a greater fimpli- 
city in nature than there really is. 

To love limplicity, and to be pleafed with it 
wherever we find it, is no imperfection, but the 
contrary. It is the refult of good talte. We 
cannot but be pleafed to obferve, that all the 
changes of motion produced by the collifion of 
bodies, hard, foft, or elaftic, are reducible to 
three fimpJe laws of motion, which the induftry 
of Philofophers has difcovered. 

When we coniider what a prodigious variety 
of effects depend upon the law of gravitation ; 
how many phaenomena in the earth, fea, and air, 
which, in all preceding ages, had tortured the wits 
of Philofophers, and occafioned a thoufand vain 
theories, are mown to be the neceffary confe- 
rences of this one law \ how the whole fyftem 
of fun, moon, planets, primary and fecondary, 
and comets, are kept in order by it, and their 
feeming irregularities accounted for and reduced 
to accurate meafure; the fimplicity of the caufe, 
and the beauty and variety of the effects, muft 
give pleafure to every contemplative mind. By 
this noble difcovery, we are taken, as it were, 
behind the fcene in this great drama of Nature, 
and made to behold fome part of the art of the 
divine Author of this fyftem, which, before this 



difcovery, eye had not feen, nor ear heard, nor 
had it entered into the heart of man to conceive. 

There is, without doubt, in every work of Na- 
ture all the beautiful fimplicity that is confiftent 
with the end for which it was made. But if we 
hope to difcover how Nature brings about its 
ends, merely from this principle, that it operates 
in the fimpleft and beft way, we deceive our- 
felves, and forget that the w-ifdom of Nature is 
more above the wifdom of man, than man's wif- 
dom is above that of a child. 

If a child mould lit down to contrive how a 
city is to be fortified, or an army arranged in the 
day of battle, he would, no doubt, conjecture 
what, to his understanding, appeared the fimpleft 
and belt way. But could he ever hit upon the 
true way ? No furely. When he learns from 
fact how thefe effects are produced, he will then 
fee how foolim his childiih conjectures were. 

We may learn fomething of the way in which 
Nature operates, from fact and obiervation ; but 
if we conclude that it operates in fuch a manner, 
only becaufe to our underftanding, that appears 
to be the beft and fimpleft manner, we mall al- 
ways go wrong. 

It was believed, for many ages, that all the va- 
riety of concrete bodies we find on this globe is 
reducible to four elements, of which they arc 
compounded, and into which they may be re- 
folved. It was the limplicity of this theory, and 
D d 3 no!". 

422 ESSAY VI. [CHAP. 8. 

not any evidence from fact, that made it to be fo 
generally received ; for the more it is examined, 
we find the lefs ground to believe it. 

The Pythagoreans and Platonifts were carried 
farther by the fame love of fimplicity. Pytha- 
goras, by his fkill in mathematics, difcovered, 
that there can be no more than five regular folid 
figures, terminated by plain furfaces which are 
all fimilar and equal ; to wit, the tetrahedron, 
the cube, the octahedron, the dodecahedron, and 
the eicofihedron. As Nature works in the moil 
fimpie and regular way, he thought that all the 
elementary bodies muft have one or. other of 
thofe regular figures ; and that the difcovery of 
the properties and relations of the regular folids 
would be a key to open the myfteries of Nature. 

This notion of the Pythagoreans and Plato- 
nifts has undoubtedly great beauty and fimplici- 
ty. Accordingly it prevailed, at leaft, to the 
time of Euclid. He was a Platonic Philofo- 
pher, and is faid to have wrote all the books of 
his Elements, in order to difcover the properties 
and relations of the five regular folids. This 
ancient tradition of the intention of Euclid in 
writing his Elements, is countenanced by the 
work itfelr. For the laft books of the Elements 
treat of the regular folids, and all the preceding 
are fubfervient to the lair:. 

So that this mofi ancient mathematical work, 
which, for its admirable compofition, has ferved 



as a model to all fuceeeding writers in mathema- 
tics, feems, like the two firft books of Newton's 
Principia, to have been intended by its author to 
exhibit the mathematical principles of natural 

It was long believed, that all the qualities of 
bodies, and all their medical virtues, -were redu- 
cible to four ; moifture and drynefs, heat and 
cold : And that there are only four tempera-^ 
ments of the human body ; the fanguine, the me- 
lancholy, the bilious, and the phlegmatic. The 
chemical fyftem, of reducing all bodies to fait, 
fulphur, and mercury, was of the fame kind. 
For how many ages did men believe, that the di- 
vifion of all the objects of thought into ten cate- 
gories, and of all that can be affirmed or denied 
of any thing, into five univerfals or predicables, 
were perfect enumerations ? 

The evidence from reafon that could be pro- 
duced for thofe fyftems was next to nothing, .and 
bore no proportion to the ground they gained in 
the belief of men ; but they were fimple and re- 
gular, and reduced things to a few principles ; 
and this fupplied their want of evidence. 

Of all the fyftems we know, that of Des Car- 
tes was moil remarkable for its fimplicity. Upon 
one proportion, I think, he builds the whole fa- 
bric of human knowledge And from mere 
matter, with a certain quantity of motion given 
D d 4 it 

424 ESSAY VI. [CHAP. 8. 

it at firft, he accounts for all the phenomena of 
the material world. 

The phyfical part of this fyftem was mere hy- 
pothesis. It had nothing to recommend it but 
its fimplicity ; yet it had force enough to over- 
turn the fyftem of Aristotle, after that fyftem 
had prevailed for more than a thoufand years. 

The principle of gravitation, and other at- 
tracting and repelling forces, after Sir Isaac 
Newton had given the ftrongeft evidence of 
their real exiftence in Nature, were rejected by 
the greater! part of Europe for half a century, 
becaufe they could not be accounted for by mat- 
ter and motion. So much were men enamour- 
ed with the fimplicity of the Carteiian fyftem. 

Nay, I apprehend, it was this love of fimplici- 
ty, more than real evidence, that led Newton 
himfelf to fay, in the preface to his Principia, 
fpeaking of the phenomena cf the material 
world, " Nam multa me movent ut nonnihil fu- 
*.' fpicer, ea omnia ex viribus quibufdam pende- 
*' re polfe, quibus corporum particular, per cau- 
" fas nondum cognitas, vel in fe mutuo impel- 
f* luntur, et fecundum figuras regulares cohse- 
" rent, vel ab invicem fugantur et recedunt." 
For certainly we have no evidence from fact, 
that all the phenomena of the material world 
are produced by attracting or repelling forces. 

With his iiiual raodefty, he propofes it only 
as a flight fufpicion.; and the ground of this fu- 



fpicion could only be, that he faw that many of 
the phaenomena of Nature depended upon caufes 
of this kind; and therefore was difpofed, from 
the fimplicity of Nature, to think that all do. 

When a real caufe is difcovered, the fame love 
of fimplicity leads men to attribute effects to it 
which are beyond its province. 

A medicine that is found to be of great ufe in 
one diftemper, commonly has its virtues multi- 
plied, till it becomes apanacea. Thofe who have 
lived long, can recollect many inftances of this. 
In other branches of knowledge, the fame thing 
often happens. When the attention of men is 
turned to any particular caufe, by difcovering it 
to have remarkable effects, they are in great 
danger of extending its influence, upon flight 
evidence, to things with which it has no connec- 
tion. Such prejudices arife from the natural de- 
iire of Amplifying natural caufes, and of account- 
ing for many phaenomena from the fame prin- 

4. One of the moft copious fources of error in 
philofophy, is the mifapplication of our nobleft 
intellectual power to purpofes for which it is in- 

Of all the intellectual powers of man, that of 
invention bears the higheft price. It refembles 
moft the power of creation, and is honoured with 
that name. 


426 ESSAY VI. [CHAP. 8. 

We admire the man who ihews a fuperiority 
in the talent of finding the means of accomplifh- 
ing an end ; who can, by a happy combination, 
produce an effect, or make a difcovery beyond 
the reach of other men ; who can draw impor- 
tant conclufions from circumftances that com- 
monly pafs unobferved ; who judges with the 
greater! fagacity of the defigns of other men, 
and the confequences of his own actions. To 
this fuperiority of underftanding we give the 
name of genius, and look up with admiration to 
every thing that bears the marks of it. 

Yet this power, fo highly valuable in itfelf, 
and fo ufeful in the conduct of life, may be mif- 
applied ; and men of genius, in all ages, have 
been prone to apply it to purpofes for which it is 
aiogether incompetent. 

The works of men and the works of Nature 
are not of the fame order. The force of genius 
may enable a man perfectly to comprehend the 
former, and to fee them to the bottom. What 
is contrived and executed by one man may be 
perfectly underftood by another man. With great 
probability, he may from a part conjecture the 
whole, or from the effects may conjecture the 
caufes ; becaufe they are effects of a wifdom not 
fuperior to his own. 

But the works of Nature are contrived and 
executed by a wifdom and power infinitely fu- 
perior to that of man ; and when men attempt, 



by the force of genius, to difcover the caufes 
of the phenomena of Nature, they have only 
the chance of going wrong more ingenioufly. 
Their conjectures may appear very probable to 
beings no wifer than themfelves ; but they have 
no chance to hit the truth. They are like the 
conjectures of a child how a fhip of war is built, 
and how it is managed at fea. 

Let the man of genius try to make an animal, 
even the meaneft ; to make a plant, or even a 
Angle leaf of a plant, or feather of a bird ; he will 
find that all his wifdom and fagacity can bear 
no comparifon with the wifdom of Nature, nor 
his power with the power of Nature. 

The experience of all ages fhows how prone 
ingenious men have been to invent hypothefes to 
explain the phenomena of Nature ; how fond, 
by a kind of anticipation, to difcover her fecrets. 
Inilead of a flow and gradual afcent in the fcale 
of natural caufes, by a jure and copious induc- 
tion, they would fhorten the work, and, by a 
flight of genius, get to the top at once. This 
gratifies the pride of human underftanding \ but 
it is an attempt beyond our force, like that of 
Phaeton to guide the chariot of the fun. 

When a man has laid out all his ingenuity in 
fabricating a fyftem, he views it with the eye of 
a parent ; he flrains phenomena to make them 
tally with it, and make it look like the work of 


428 ESSAY VI. [chap. 8. 

The flow and patient method of induction, 
the only way to attain any knowledge of Na- 
ture's work, was little underftood until it was 
delineated by Lord Bacon, and has been little 
followed fince. It humbles the pride of man, 
and puts him conftantly in mind that his mod 
ingenious conjectures with regard to the works 
of God are pitiful and childifh. 

There is no room here for the favourite talent 
of invention. In the humble method of infor- 
mation, from the great volume of Nature we 
muft receive all our knowledge of Nature. 
Whatever is beyond a juft interpretation of that 
volume is the work of man; and the work of 
God ought not to be contaminated by any mix- 
ture with it. 

To a man of genius, felf-denial is a difficult 
leflen in philofophy as well as in religion. To 
bring his fine imaginations and molt ingenious 
conjectures to the fiery trial of experiment and 
induction, by which the greater part, if not the 
whole, will be found to be drofs, is a humili- 
ating talk. This is to condemn him to dig in a 
mine, when he would fly with the wings of an 

In all the fine arts, whofe end is to pleafe, ge- 
nious is defervedly fuprerae. In the conduct of 
human affairs it often does wonders ; but in all 
inquiries into the conflitution of Nature it muft 
act a fubordinate part, ill-fuited to the fuperi- 



ority it boafts. It may combine, but it mud not 
fabricate. It may collect evidence, but muft not 
fupply the want of it by conjecture. It may 
difplay its powers by putting Nature to the 
queftion in well-contrived experiments, but it 
mult add nothing to her anfwers. 

5. In avoiding one extreme, men are very apt 
to rum into the oppofite. 

Thus, in rude ages, men, unaccuftomed to 
fearch for natural caufes, afcribe every uncom- 
mon appearance to the immediate interpofition 
of invilible beings ; but when philofophy has 
difcovered natural caufes of many events, which, 
in the days of ignorance, were afcribed to the 
immediate Operation of gods or daemons, they 
are apt to think, that all the phenomena of Na- 
ture may be accounted for in the fame way, and 
that there is no need of an invifible Maker and 
Governor of the world. 

Rude men are at firft difpofed to afcribe in- 
telligence and active power to every thing they 
fee move or undergo any change. " Savages, fays 
" the Abbe Raynal, wherever they fee motion 
" which they cannot account for, there they 
" fuppofe a foul.'* When they come to be con- 
vinced of the folly of this extreme, they are 
apt to run into the oppofite, and to think that 
every thing moves only as it is moved, and ads 
as it is acted upon, 


43° ESSAY VI. [chap. 8. 

Thus, from the extreme of fuperftition, the 
transition is eafy to that of atheifm ; and from 
the extreme of afcribing activity to every part 
of Nature, to that of excluding it altogether, 
and making even the determinations of intelli- 
gent beings, the links of one fatal chain, or the 
wheels of one great machine. 


The abufe of occult qualities in the Peripa- 
tetic philofophy led Des Cartes and his fol- 
lowers to reject all occult qualities ; to pretend 
to explain all the phenomena of Nature by mere 
matter and motion, and even to fix difgrace up- 
on the name of occult quality. 

6. Mens judgments are often perverted by 
their affections and paffions. This is fo com- 
monly obferved, and fo univerfally acknowledg- 
ed, that it needs no proof nor illuftration. 

The fecond clafs of idols in Lord Bacon's di- 
vilion, are the idola fpecuf. 

Thefe are prejudices which have their origin, 
not from the conftitution of human nature, but 
from fomething peculiar to the individual. 

As in a cave objects vary in their appearance 
according to the form of the cave and the man- 
ner in which it receives the light, Lord Bacon 
conceives the mind of every man to refemble a 
cave, which has its particular form, and its par- 
ticular manner of being enlightened ; and, from 
thefe circumftances, often gives falfe colours and 
a delufive appearance to objects feen in it. 



For this reafon, he gives the name of idola 
fpecus to thofe prejudices which arife from the 
particular way in which a man has been trained, 
from his being addicted to fome particular pro- 
feffion, or from fomething particular in the turn 
of his mind. 

A man whofe thoughts have been confined to 
a certain track by his profeffion or manner of 
life, is very apt to judge wrong when he ventures 
out of that track. He is apt to draw every thing 
within the fphere of his profeffion, and to judge 
by its maxims of things that have no relation to 

The mere Mathematician is apt to apply mea- 
fure and calculation to things which do not ad- 
mit of it. Direct and inverfe ratios have been 
applied by an ingenious author to meafure hu- 
man affections, and the moral worth of actions. 
An eminent Mathematician attempted to as- 
certain by calculation, the ratio in which the 
evidence of facts mull decreafe in the courfe of 
time, and fixed the period when the evidence of 
the facts on which Chriftianity is founded ihali 
become evanefcent, and when in confequence no 
faith mall be found on the earth. I have feen 
a philofophical dhTertation publifhed by a very 
good Mathematician, wherein, in oppolition to 
the ancient diviiion of things into ten categories, 
he maintains that there are no more, and can be 


432 ESSAY VI. [chap. 8. 

no more than two categories, to wit data and 

The ancient Chemifts were wont to explain 
all the myfteries of Nature, and even of religion, 
by fait, fulphur, and mercury. 

Mr Locke, I think, mentions an eminent Mu- 
fician, who believed that God created the world 
in fix days, and relied the feventh, becaufe there 
are but feven notes in mufic. I knew one of 
that profeffion, who thought that there could 
be only three parts in harmony, to wit, bafs, 
tenor and treble ; becaufe there are but three 
perfons in the Trinity. 

The learned and ingenious Dr Henry More 
having very elaborately and methodically com- 
piled his Enchiridimn Metaphyjicum, and Encbi- 
ridium Ethicum, found all the divilions and fub- 
divifions of both to be allegorically taught in 
the flrft chapter of Genefis. Thus even very in- 
genious men are 'apt to make a ridiculous figure, 
by drawing into the track, in which their thoughts 
have long run, things altogether foreign to it. 

Different perfons, either from temper or from 
education, have different tendencies of under- 
Handing, which, by their excefs, are unfavour- 
able to found j udgment. 

Some have an undue admiration of antiquity, 
and contempt of whatever is modern ; others 
go as far into the contrary extreme. It may be 



judged, that the former are perfons who value 
themfelves upon their acquaintance with ancient 
authors, and the latter fuch as have little know 
ledge of this kind. 

Some are afraid to venture a ftep out of the 
beaten track, and think it fafeft to go with the 
multitude ; others are fond of lingular ities, and 
of every thing that has the air of paradox. 

Some are defultory and changeable in their 
opinions ; others unduly tenacious, Moll men 
have a predilection for the tenets of their feci or 
party, and ftill more for their own inventions. 

The idola fori are the fallacies arifing from 
the imperfections and the abufe of language, 
which is an instrument of thought as well as of 
the communication of our thoughts. 

Whether it be the effect of conftitution or of 
habit, I will not take upon me to determine ; 
but, from one or both of thefe caufes, it hap- 
pens, that no man can purfue a train of thought 
or reafoning without the ufe of language. Words 
are the figns of our thoughts ; and the fign is 
fo affbciated with the thing fignified, that the 
laft can hardly prefent itfelf to the imagination, 
without drawing the other along with it. 

A man who would compofe in any language, 
muft think in that language. If he thinks in 
one language what he would exprefs in another, 
he thereby doubles his labour, and after all, his 

Vol. IT, E e expreffions 

434 ESSAY VI. [chap. 8. 

expreflions will have more the air of a tranflation 
than of an original. 

This mows, that our thoughts -take their co- 
lour in fome degree from the language we ufe ; 
and that, although language ought always to be 
fubfervient to thought, yet thought muft be at. 
fome times, and in fome degree, fubfervient to 

As a fervant that is extremely ufeful and ne- 
ceiTary to his mafter, by degrees acquires an au- 
thority over him, fo that the mafter muft often 
yield to the fervant ; fuch is the cafe with regard 
to language. Its intention is to be a fervant to 
the underftanding ; but it is fo ufeful and fo ne- 
ceffary, that we cannot avoid being fometimes 
led by it when it ought to follow. We cannot 
fhake off this impediment, we muft drag it along 
with us ; and therefore muft direct our courfe, 
and regulate our pace, as it permits. 

Language muft have many imperfections when 
applied to philofophy, becaufe it was not made 
for that ufe. In the early periods of fociety, 
rude and ignorant men ufe certain forms of 
fpeech, to exprefs their wants, their delires, and 
their tranfadions with one another. Their lan- 
guage can reach no farther than their fpecula- 
tions and notions ; and if their notions be vague 
and ill defined, the words by which they exprefs 
them muft be fo likewifer 



It was a grand and noble project of Bifhop 
Wilkins, to invent a philoiophical language, 
which fhould be free from the imperfections of 
vulgar languages. Whether this attempt will 
ever fucceed, fo far as to be generally ufeful, I 
fhall not pretend to determine. The great pains 
taken by that excellent man in this defign have 
hitherto produced no effect. Very few have ever 
entered minutely into his views ; far lefs have 
his philoiophical language and his real charac- 
ter been brought into ufe. 

He founds his philoiophical language and real 
character upon a fyttematical divifion and fub- 
divifion of all. the things which may be expreffed 
by language ; and, inflead of the ancient divilion 
into ten categories, has made forty categories, or 
fumma genera. But whether this divifion, though 
made by a very comprehenfive mind, will always 
fuit the various fyftems that may be introduced, 
and all the real improvements that may be made 
in human knowledge, may be doubted. The 
difficulty is ft ill greater in the fubdivilions ; fo 
that it is to be feared, that this noble attempt of 
a great genius will prove abortive, until Philo- 
fophers have the fame opinions and the fame fy- 
ftems in the various branches of human know- 

There is more reafon to hope, that the lan- 
guages ufed by Philofophers may be gradually 
E e 2 improved 

43^ ESSAY VI. [CHAP. 8. 

improved in copioufnefs and in diftinctnefs ; and 
that improvements in knowledge and in language 
may go hand in hand, and facilitate each other. 
But I fear the imperfections of language can 
never be perfectly remedied while our knowledge 
is imperfect. 

However this may be, it is evident that the 
imperfections of language, and much more the 
abufe of it, are the occafion of many errors ; and 
that in many difputes which have engaged learn- 
ed men, the difference has been partly, and in 
fome wholly, about the meaning of words. 

Mr Locke found it necefTary to employ a 
fourth part of his EfTay on Human Underftand- 
ing about words ; their various kinds ; their im- 
perfection and abufe, and the remedies of both ; 
and has made many obfervations upon thefe fab- 
jects, well worthy of attentive perufal. 

The fourth clafs of prejudices are the idola 
theatri, by which are meant prejudices arifing 
from the fyftems or feels, in which we have been 
trained, or which we have adopted. 

A falfe fyftem once fixed in the mind, be- 
comes, as it were, the medium through which 
we fee objects : They receive a tincture from it, 
and appear of another colour than when feen by 
a pure light. 

Upon the fame fubjedt, a Platonift, a Peripa- 
tetic, and an Epicurean, .will think differently, 



not only in matters connected with his peculiar 
tenets, but even in things remote from them. 

A judicious hiftory of the different feds of 
Philofophers, and the different methods of philo- 
fophifing, which have obtained among mankind, 
would be of no fmall ufe to direct men in the 
fearch of truth. In fuch a hiltory, what would 
be of the greateft moment is not fo much a mi- 
nute detail of the dogmata of each feet, as a juft 
delineation of the fpirit of the feci, and of that 
point of view in which things appeared to its 
founder. This was perfectly underftood, and, as 
far as concerns the theories of morals, is execu- 
ted with great judgment and candour by Dr 
Smith in his Theory of Moral Sentiments 

As there are certain temperaments of the body 
that difpofe a man more to one clafs of difeafes 
than to another ; and, on the other hand, difeafes 
of that kind, when they happen by accident, are 
apt to induce the temperament that is fuited to 
them \ there is fomething analogous to this in 
the difeafes of the underftanding. 

A certain complexion of underftanding may 
difpofe a man to one fyftem of opinions more 
than to another ; and, on the other hand, a fy- 
ftem of opinions, fixed in the mind by educa- 
tion or otherwife, gives that complexion to the 
underftanding which is fuited to them. 

It were to be wifhed, that the different fyftems 

that have prevailed could be claffed according 

E e 3 to 

43§ ESSAY VI. [chap. 8. 

to their fpirit, as well as named from their found- 
ers. Lord Bacon has diftinguiihed falfe philo- 
fophy into the fophiftical, the empirical, and the 
fuperftitious, and has made judicious obferva- 
tions upon each of thefe kinds. But I appre- 
hend this fubjedt defer ves to be treated more 
fully by fuch a hand, if fuch a hand can be 




Of Reafoning in general, and of Demonftration. 

' | 1 HE power of reafoning is very nearly allied 
j[ to that of judging ; and it is of little con- 
fequence in the common affairs of life to diftin- 
guifh them nicely. On this account, the fame 
name is often given to both. We include both 
under the name of reafon. The affent we give 
to a propolition is called judgment, whether the 
proportion be felf-evident, or derive its evidence 
by reafoning from other propolitions. 

Yet there is a diftin&ion between reafoning 
and judging. Reafoning is the procefs by which 
we pafs from one judgment to another which is 
the confequence of it. Accordingly our judg- 

E e 4 ments 

44® ESSAY VII. [chap. I. 

merits are diftinguifhed into intuitive, which are 
not grounded upon any preceding judgment, and 
difcurfive, which are deduced from fome pre- 
ceding judgment by reafoning. 

In all reafoning, therefore, there mull be a 
propofition inferred, and one or more from which 
it is inferred. And this power of inferring, or 
drawing a conclufion, is only another name for 
reafoning ; the proportion inferred being called 
the conclufion, and the propofition, or propor- 
tions from which it is inferred, the premifes. 

Reafoning may confift of many Heps ; the 
firfl conclufion being a premife to a fecond, that 
to a third, and fo on, till we come to the laft 
conclufion. A procefs confifting of many fteps 
of this kind, is fo eafily diftinguifhed from judg- 
ment, that it is never called by that name. But 
when there is only a fingle ftep to the conclu- 
fion, the diftincTion is lefs obvious, and the pro- 
cefs is fometimes called judgment, fometimes 

It is not ftrange, that, in common difcourfe, 
judgment and reafoning fhould not be very 
nicely diftinguilhed, fince they are in fome 
cafes confounded even by Logicians. We are; 
taught in logic, that judgment is exprefTed by 
one propofition, but that reafoning requires two 
or three. But fo various are the modes of fpeech, 
that what in one mode is exprefTed by two or 
three proportions, may in another mode be ex- 


prefled by one. Thus I may fay, God is good ; 
therefore good menjhall be happy. This is rea- 
foning, of that kind which Logicians call an 
enthymeme, confifting of an antecedent propofi- 
tion, and a conclufion drawn from it. But this 
reafoning may be expreffed by one propofition, 
thus : Becaufe God is good, good men Jhall he 
happy. This is what they call a caufal propofi- 
tion, and therefore expreffes judgment > yet the 
enthymeme, which is reafoning, expreffes no 

Reafoning, as well as judgment, mull be true 
or falfe ; both are grounded upon evidence 
which may be probable or demonftrative, and 
both are accompanied with affent or belief. 

The power of reafoning is juftly accounted 
one of the prerogatives of human nature ; be- 
caufe by it many important truths have been, 
and may be difcovered, which without it would 
be beyond our reach ; yet it feems to be only a 
kind of crutch to a limited underftanding. We 
can conceive an underftanding, fuperior to hu- 
man, to which that truth appears intuitively, 
which we can only difcover by reafoning. For 
this caufe, though we muft afcribe judgment to 
the Almighty, we do not afcribe reafoning to 
him, becaufe it implies fome defecl: or limitation 
of underftanding. Even among men, to ufe rea- 
foning in things that are felf-evident, is trifling , 


44 2 ESSAY VII. f CHAP. t. 

like a man going upon crutches when he can 
walk upon his leg's. 

What reafoning is, can be underftood only by 
a man who has reafoned, and who is capable of 
reflecting upon this operation of his own mind. 
We can define it only by fynonimous words or 
phrafes, fuch as inferring, drawing a conclufion, 
and the like. The very notion of reafoning, 
therefore, can enter into the mind by no other 
channel than that of reflecting upon the opera- 
tion of reafoning in our own minds ; and the 
notions of premifes and conclufion, of a fyllo- 
gifm, and all its conftituent parts, of an enthy- 
meme, forites, demonitration, paralogifm, and 
many others, have the fame origin. 

It is Nature undoubtedly that gives us the 
capacity of reafoning. When this is wanting, 
no art nor -education can fupply it'. But this 
capacity may be dormant through life, like the 
feed of a plant, which, for want of heat and 
moifture, never vegitates. This is probably the 
cafe of fome favages. 

Although the capacity be purely the gift of Na- 
ture, and probably given in very different degrees 
to different perfons ; yet the power of reafoning 
feems to be got by habit, as much as the power of 
walking or running. Its firft exertions we are not 
able to recollect in ourfelves, or clearly to dif- 
cern in others. They are very feeble, and need 
to be led by example, and fupported by autho- 


rity. By degrees it acquires ftrength, chiefly by 
means of imitation and exercife. 

The exercife of reafoning on various fubje&s 
not only ftrengthens the faculty, but furnifties 
the mind with a ftore of materials. Every train 
of reafoning, which is familiar, becomes a beaten 
track in the way to many others. It removes 
many obftacles which lay in our way, and 
fmooths many roads which we may have occa- 
fion to travel in future difquifltions. 

When men of equal natural parts apply their 
reafoning power to any fubje<£t, the man who has 
reafoned much on the fame, or on fimilar fub- 
jects, has a like advantage over him who has not, 
as the mechanic who has (lore of tools for his 
work, has of him who has his tools to make, or 
even to invent. 

In a train of reafoning, the evidence of every 
flep, where nothing is left to be fupplied by the 
reader or hearer, muft be immediately difcern- 
ible to every man of ripe understanding who has 
a diftinct comprehenfion of the premifes and 
conclusion, and who compares them together. 
To be able to comprehend, in one view, a com- 
bination of Heps of this kind, is more difficult, 
and feems to require a fuperior natural ability. 
In all, it may be much improved by habit. 

But the higheft talent in reafoning is the in- 
vention of proofs ; by which, truths remote 
from the premifes are brought to light. In all 


444 ESSAY VII. [CHAlP. I. 

works of underftanding, invention has the high- 
eft praife ; it requires an extenfive view of what 
relates to the fubjecl, and a quicknefs in dis- 
cerning thofe affinities and relations which may- 
be fubfervient to the purpofe. 

In all invention there muft be fome end in 
view : And fagacity in finding out the road that 
leads to this end, is, I think, what we call in- 
vention. In this chiefly, as I apprehend, and in 
clear and diftindt conceptions, confift that fupe- 
riority of underftanding which w T e call genius. 

In every chain of reafoning, the evidence of 
the laft conclulion can be no greater than that 
of the weakeft link of the chain, whatever may 
be the ftrength of the reft. 

The moft remarkable diftin&ion of reafonings 
is, that fome are probable, others demonftrative. 

In every ftep of demonftrative reafoning, the 
inference is neceflary, and we perceive it to be 
impoffible that the conclulion fhould not follow 
from the premifes. In probable reafoning, the 
connection between the premifes and the con- 
clulion is not neceflary, nor do we perceive it to 
be impoffible that the firft fhould be true while 
the laft is falfe. 

Hence demonftrative reafoning has no degrees, 
nor can one demonftration be ftronger than an- 
other, though, in relation to our faculties, one 
may be more eafily comprehended than another. 
Every demonftration gives equal ftrength to the 



conclufion, and leaves no poffibility of its being 

It was, I think, the opinion of all the ancients, 
that demonftrative reafoning can be applied only 
to truths that are neceffary, and not to thofe that 
are contingent. In this, I believe, they judged 
right. Of all created things, the exiftence, the 
attributes, and confequently the relations reunit- 
ing from thofe attributes, are contingent. They 
depend upon the will and power of him who 
made them. Thefe are matters of facl, and ad- 
mit not of demonftration. 

The field of demonftrative reafoning, therefore, 
is the various relations of things abftradl, that is, 
of things which we conceive, without regard to 
their exiftence. Of thefe, as they are conceived 
by the mind, and are nothing but what they are 
conceived to be, we may have a clear and ade- 
quate comprehenfion. Their relations and attri- 
butes are neceffary and immutable. They are the 
things to which the Pythagoreans and Platonifts 
gave the name of ideas. I would beg leave to 
borrow this meaning of the word idea from thofe 
ancient Philofophers, and then I muft agree with 
them, that ideas are the only objects about which 
we can reafon demonflratively. 

There are many even of our ideas about which 
we can carry on no confiderable train of reafon- 
ing. Though they be ever fo well defined and 
perfectly comprehended, yet their agreements 



and difagreements are few, and thefe are difcern- 
ed at once. We may go a ftep or two in form- 
ing a conclufion with regard to men objects, but 
can go no farther. There are others, about which 
we may, by a long train of demonftrative rea- 
foning, arrive at conclufions very remote and un- 
expected. • 

The reafonings I have met with that can be . 
called ftrictly demonftrative, may, I think, be 
reduced to two claffes. They are either meta- 
phyfical, or they are mathematical. 

In metaphy fic'al reafoning, the' procefs is al- 
ways fhort. The conclufion is but a ilep or two, 
feldom more, from the firft principle or axiom 
on which it is grounded, and the different con- 
clufions depend not one upon another. 

It is otherwife in mathematical reafoning. 
Here the field has no limits. One proportion 
leads on to another, that to a third, and fo on 
ivithout end. 

If it mould be afked, why demonftrative rea- 
foning has fo wide a field in mathematics, While, 
in other abftrad fubjects, it is confined within 
very narrow limits ? I conceive this is chiefly 
owing to the nature of quantity, the object of 

Every quantity, as it has magnitude, and is di- 
vifible into parts without end, fo, in refpect of 
its magnitude, it has a certain ratio to every 
quantity of the kind. The ratios of quantities 



are innumerable, fuch as, a half, a third, a tenth, 
double, triple. All the powers of number are 
infufficient to exprefs the variety of ratios. For 
there are innumerable ratios which cannot be 
perfectly exprefled by numbers, fuch as, the ra- 
tio of the fide to the diagonal of a fquare, of the 
circumference of a circle to the diameter. Of 
this infinite variety of ratios, every one may be 
clearly conceived, and diftinctly expreffed, fo as 
to be in no danger of being miftaken for any 

Extended quantities, fuch as lines, furfaces, 
folids, befides the variety of relations they have 
in refpect. of magnitude, have no lefs variety in 
refpect of figure ; and every mathematical figure 
may be accurately defined, fo as to diftinguifh it 
from all others. 

There is nothing of this kind in other objects 
of abftract reafoning. Some of them have va- 
rious degrees ; but thefe are not capable of mea- 
fure, nor can be faid to have an aflignable ratio 
to others of the kind. They are either fimple, 
or compounded of a few indivifible parts ; and 
therefore, if we may be allowed the expreffion, 
can touch only in few points. But mathematical 
quantities being made up of parts without num- 
ber, can touch in innumerable points, and be 
compared in innumerable different ways. 

There have been attempts made to meafure 
the merit of actions by the ratios of the affec- 

\ r 

448 E S S A V VII. [CHA*». I. 

tions and principles of action from which they 
proceed. This may perhaps, in the way of ana- 
logy, ferve to illuftrate what was before known ; 
but I do not think any truth can be difcovered 
in this way. There are, no. doubt, degrees of 
benevolence, felf-love, and other affections ; but, 
when we apply ratios to them, I apprehend we 
have no distinct meaning. 

Some demonftrations are called direct, others 
indirect. The firft kind leads directly to the 
conclufion to be proved. Of the indirect fome 
are called demonftrations ad abfurdum. In thefe 
the propofition contradictory to that which is 
to be proved is demonft rated to be falfe, or to 
lead to an abfurdity ; whence it follows, that 
its contradictory, that is, the propofition to be 
proved, is true. This inference is grounded up- 
on an axiom in logic, That of two contradic- 
tory proportions, if one be falfe, the other mult 
be true. 

Another kind of indirect demonftration pro- 
ceeds by enumerating all the fuppofitions that 
can poflibly be made concerning the propofition 
to be proved, and then demonstrating, that all of 
them, excepting that which is to be proved, are 
falfe ; whence it follows, that the excepted fup- 
pofition is true. Thus one line is proved to be 
equal to another, by proving firft that it cannot 
be greater, and then that it cannot be lefs : For 
it muft be either greater, or lefs, or equal ; and 



two of thefe fuppofitions being demonftrated to 
be falfe, the third muft be true. 

All thefe kinds of demonft ration are ufed in 
mathematics, and perhaps fome others. They 
have all equal ftrength. The direct demonftra- 
tion is preferred where it can be had, for this 
reafon only, as I apprehend, becaufe it is the 
Ihorteft road to the conclufion. The nature of 
the evidence and its ftrength is the fame in all : 
Only we are conducted to it by different roads, 


Whether Morality be capable of Demonftration* 

WHAT has been faid of demonftrative 
reafoning may help us to judge of an 
opinion of Mr Locke, advanced in feveral places 
of his Eflay ; to wit, " That morality is ca- 
" pable of demonilration as well as mathema- 
" tics." 

In book 3. chap. n. having obferved, that 
mixed modes, efpecially thofe belonging to mo- 
rality, being fuch combinations of ideas as the 
mind puts together of its own choice, the Signi- 
fication of their names may be perfectly and ex- 
actly defined, he adds, 

Sect. 16. " Upon this ground it is that I am 
" bold to think, that morality is capable of de- 

Vol. II, F f " monftration 

45° ESSAY VII. [CHAP. 2i 

** monftration as well as mathematics : Since the 
" precife real eflence of the things moral words 
" ftand for may be perfectly known, and fo the 
" congruity or incongruity of the things them- 
" felves be certainly difcovered, in which con- 
" lifts perfect knowledge. Nor let any one ob- 
" ject, That the names of mbftances are often to 
" be made ufe of in morality, as well as thofe of 
" modes, from which will arife obfcurity : For, 
" as to mbftances, when concerned in moral dif- 
" courfes, their divers natures are not fo much 
" inquired into as fuppofed : v. g. When we fay 
" that man is fubjedl to law, we mean nothing 
" by man but a corporeal rational creature : 
" What the real eflence or other qualities of that 
'f creature are, in this cafe, is no way confider- 
" ed." 

Again, in book 4. chap. 3. § 18. " The idea 
" of a Supreme Being, whofe workmanlhip we 
" are, and the idea of ourfelves, being fuch as 
" are clear in us, would, I fuppofe, if duly con- 
" fidered and purfued, afford fuch foundation of 
" our duty and rules of action, as might place 
" morality among the fciences capable of de- 
" monftration. The relation of other modes 
" may certainly be perceived, as well as thofe 
" of number and extenfion ; and I cannot fee 
(i why they mould not be capable of demonftra- 
" tion, if due methods were thought on to ex- 

" amine 


" amine or purfue their agreement or difagree- 
" ment." 

He afterwards gives as inftances, two propofi- 
tions, as moral propofitions of which we may be 
as certain as of any in mathematics ; and con- 
iiders at large what may have given the advan- 
tage to the ideas of quantity, and made them be 
thought more capable of certainty and demon- 

Again, in the 12th chapter of the fame book, 
§ 7, 8. " This I think I may fay, that if other 
" ideas that are the real as well as nominal ef- 
" fences of their feveral fpecies, were purfued in 
" the way familiar to Mathematicians, they 
" would carry our thoughts farther, and with 
" greater evidence and clearnefs, than pofnbly 
" we are apt to imagine. This gave me the 
" confidence to advance that conjecture which I 
" fuggeft, chap. 3. viz. That morality is capable 
" of demonfl ration as well as mathematics." 

From thefe paffages it appears, that this opi- 
nion was not a tranfient thought, but what he 
had revolved in his mind on different oceafionSc 
He offers his reafons for it, illultrates it by ex- 
amples, and confiders at length the caufes that 
have led men to think mathematics more ca- 
pable of demonftration than the principles of 

Some of his learned correfpondents, particu- 
larly his friend Mr Molyneux, urged and im- 
f f 2 portuned 

45 2 ESSAY VII. [CHAP. 2. 

portuned him to compofe a fyflem of morals ac- 
cording to the idea he had advanced in his Ef- 
fay ; and, in his anfwer to thefe folicitations, he 
only pleads other occupations, without fuggeft- 
ing any change of his opinion, or any great dif- 
ficulty in the execution of what was delired. 

The reafon he gives for this opinion is inge- 
nious ; and his regard for virtue, the higheft 
prerogative of the human fpecies, made him fond 
of an opinion which feemed to be favourable to 
virtue, and to have a juft foundation in reafon. 

We need not, however, be afraid, that the in- 
tereft of virtue may fuffer by a free and candid 
examination of this queftion, or indeed of any 
queftion whatever. For the interelts of truth and 
of virtue can never be found in opposition. Dark- 
nefs and error may befriend vice, but can never 
be favourable to virtue. 

Thofe Philofophers who think that our deter- 
minations in morals are not real judgments, that 
right and wrong in human conduct are only cer- 
tain feelings or fenfations in the perfon who con- 
templates the action, muft reject Mr Locke's 
opinion without examination. For if the prin- 
ciples of morals be not a matter of judgment, 
but of feeling only, there can be no demonftra- 
tion of them : nor can any other reafon be given 
for them but that men are fo conftituted by the 
Author of their being, as to contemplate with 



pleafure the actions we call virtuous, and with 
difguft thofe we call vicious. 

It is not therefore to be expected, that the 
Philcfophers of this elafs lhould think this opi- 
nion of Mr Locke worthy of examination, iince 
it is founded upon what they think a falfe hy- 
pothesis. But if our determinations in morality 
be real judgments, and, like all other judgments, 
be either true or falfe, it is not unimportant to 
underftand upon what kind of evidence thofe 
judgments reft. 

The argument offered by Mr Locke, to fhow 
that morality is capable of demonftration, is, 
" That the precife real effence of the things mo- 
" ral words Hand for may be perfectly known, 
" and fo the congruity or incongruity of the 
" things themfelves be perfectly difcovered, in 
" which conlifts perfect knowledge." 

It is true, that the field of demonftration is 
the various relations of things conceived ab- 
ftractly, of which we may have perfect and ade- 
quate conceptions. And Mr Locke, taking all 
the things which moral words ftand for to be of 
this kind, concluded that morality is as capable 
of demonftration as mathematics. 

I acknowledge, that the names of the virtues 
and vices, of right and obligation, of liberty and 
property, ftand for things abftract, which may 
be accurately defined, or, at, conceived as 
diftinctly and adequately as mathematical quan.- 
F f 3 tities. 

454 ESSAY VII. [chap. 2. 

tities. And thence indeed it follows, that their 
mutual relations may be perceived as clearly and 
certainly as mathematical truths. 

Of this Mr Locke gives two pertinent ex- 
amples : The firft, " where there is no property, 
" there is no injuftice, is, fays he, a propofition 
' u as certain as any demonftration in Euclid." 

When injuftice is defined to be a violation of 
property, it is as neceflary a truth, that there can 
be no injuftice where there is no property, as 
that you cannot take from a man that which he 
has not. 

The fecond example is, " That no government 
ei allows abfolute liberty." This is a truth no 
lefs certain and neceifary. 

Such abftradt truths I would call metaphys- 
eal rather than moral. We give the name of 
mathematical, to truths that exprefs the rela- 
tions of quantities confidered abftraclly ; all 
other abftuadl truths may be called metaphys- 
eal. But if thofe mentioned by Mr Locke are 
to be called moral truths, I agree with him that 
there are many fuch that are neceffarily true, 
and that have all the evidence that mathemati- 
cal truths can have. 

It ought however to be remembered, that, as 
was before obferved, the relations of things ab- 
ftracl, perceivable by us, excepting thofe of ma- 
thematical quantities, are few, and for the moft 
part immediately difcerned, fo as not to require 



that train of reafoning which we call demon- 
ftration. Their evidence refembles more that of 
mathematical axioms than mathematical pro- 

This appears in the two propolitions given as 
examples by Mr Locke. The firft follows im- 
mediately from the definition of injuftice ; the 
fecond from the definition of government. Their 
evidence may more properly be called intuitive 
than demonftrative : And this I apprehend to 
be the cafe, or nearly the cafe, of all abftradl 
truths that are not mathematical, for the reafon 
given in the laft chapter. 

The propolitions which I think are properly 
called moral, are thofe that affirm fome moral 
obligation to be, or not to be incumbent on one 
or more individual perfons. To fuch propoli- 
tions Mr Locke's reafoning does not apply, be- 
caufe the fubjecls of the propofition are not 
things whofe real effence may be perfectly 
known. They are the creatures of God ; their 
obligation refults from the constitution which 
God hath given them, and the circumftances in 
which he hath placed them. That an indivi- 
dual hath fuch a conftitution, and is placed in 
fuch circumftances, is not an abftracl: and necef- 
fary, but a contingent truth. It is a matter of 
fact, and therefore not capable of demonftrative 
evidence, which belongs only to necelfary truths. 
Ff 4 The 

456 ESSAY VII. [CHAP. 1, 

The evidence which every man hath of his 
own exiftence, though it be irrefiftible, is not de- 
monftrative. And the fame thing may be faid 
of the evidence which every man hath, that he 
is a moral agent, and under certain moral obli- 
gations. In like manner, the evidence we have 
of the exiftence of other men is not demonftra- 
tive ; nor is the evidence we have of their being 
endowed with thofe faculties which make them 
moral and accountable agents. 

If a man had not the faculty given him by 
Cod of perceiving certain things in conduct to 
be right, and others to he wrong, and of per- 
ceiving his obligation to do what is right, and 
not to do what is wrong, he would not be a mo- 
ral and accountable being. 

If man be endowed with fuch a faculty, 
there mull be fome things, which, by this facul- 
ty, are immediately difcerned to be right, and 
others to be wrong ; and therefore there mult 
be in morals, as in other fciences, firft principles, 
which do not derive their evidence from any 
antecedent principles, but may be faid to be in- 
tuitively difcerned. 

Moral truths, therefore, may be divided into 
two ciaifes, to wit, fuch as are felf-evident to 
every man whofe understanding and moral fa- 
culty are ripe, and fuch as are deduced by rea- 
soning from thofe that are felf-evident. If the 



iirft be not difcerned without reafoning, the laft 
never can be, by any reafoning. 

If any man could fay with fmcerity, that he is 
confcious of no obligation to confult his own pre- 
fent and future happinefs ; to be faithful to his 
engagements; to obey his Maker ; to injure no 
man ; I know not what reafoning, either pro- 
bable or demonftrative, I could ufe to convince 
him of any moral duty. As you cannot reafon 
in mathematics with a man who denies the axi- 
oms, as little can you reafon with a man in mo- 
rals who denies the firft principles of morals. 
The man who does not, by the light of his own 
mind, perceive f©me things in conduct to be 
right, and others to be wrong, is as incapable of 
reafoning about morals as a blind man is about 
colours. Such a man, if any fuch man ever was, 
would be no moral agent, nor capable of any 
moral obligation. 

Some firft principles of morals muit be imme- 
diately difcerned, other wife we have no founda- 
tion on which others can reft, or from which we 
can reafon. 

Every man knows certainly, that, what he ap- 
proves in other men he ought to do in like cir- 
cumftances, and that he ought not to do what he 
condemns in other men. Every man knows 
that he ought, with candour, to ufe the beil 
means of knowing his duty. To every man 
who has a confcience, thefe things are felf-evi- 


45 8 ESSAY VII. [CHAP. 2. 

dent. They are immediate dictates of our mo- 
ral faculty, which is a part of the human confti- 
tution ; and every man condemns himfelf, whe- 
ther he will or not, when he knowingly acts con- 
trary to them. The evidence of thefe funda- 
mental principles of morals, and of others that 
might be named, appears therefore to me to be 
intuitive rather than demonflrative. 

The man who ads according to the dictates 
of his confcience, and takes due pains to be right- 
ly informed of his duty, is a perfeft man with 
regard to morals, and merits no blame, whatever 
may be the imperfections or errors of his under- 
itanding. He who knowingly acts contrary to 
them is confcious of guilt, and felf- condemned. 
Every particular action that falls evidently with- 
in the fundamental rules of morals is evidently 
his duty ; and it requires no reafoning to con- 
vince him that it is fo. 

Thus I think it appears, that every man of 
common understanding knows certainly, and 
without reafoning, the ultimate ends he ought to 
purfue, and that reafoning is neceffary only to 
difcover the moft proper means of attaining them ; 
and in this, indeed, a good man may often be in 

Thus, a Magiftrate knows that it is his duty to 
promote the good of the community which hath 
entrufled him with authority; and to offer to 
prove this to him by ceafoning would be to af- 


front him. But whether fuch a fcheme of con- 
duel in his office, or another, may bell ferve that 
end, he may in many cafes be doubtful. I be- 
lieve, in fuch cafes, he can very rarely have de- 
monltrative evidence. His confeience determines 
the end he ought to purfue, and he has intuitive 
evidence that his end is good ; but prudence 
mufl determine the means of attaining that end ; 
and prudence can very rarely ufe demonftrative 
reafoning, but muft reft in what appears moft 

I apprehend, that in every kind of duty we 
owe to God or man, the cafe is fimilar ; that is, 
That the obligation of the moft general rules of 
duty is felf-evident \ that the application of thofe 
rules to particular actions is often no lefs evi- 
dent ; and that, when it is not evident, but re- 
quires reafoning, that reafoning can very rarely 
be of the demonftrative, but muft be of the pro- 
bable kind. Sometimes it depends upon the 
temper and talents and circumftances of the man 
himfelf ; fometimes upon the character and cir- 
cumftances of others ; fometimes upon both ; 
and thefe are things which admit not of demon- 

Every man is bound to employ the talents 
which God hath given him to the bell purpofe ; 
but if, through accidents which he could not fore- 
fee, or ignorance which was invincible, they be 
lefs ufefully employed than they might have been, 


460 ESSAY VII. [CHAP. 2. 

this will not be imputed to him by his righteous 

It is a common and a juft obfervation, that the 
man of virtue plays a furergame in order to obtain 
his end than the man of the world. It is not, 
however, becaufe he reafons better concerning 
the means of attaining his end ; for the children 
of this world are often wifer in their generation 
than the children of light. But the reafon of 
the obfervation is, that involuntary errors, unfore- 
feen accidents, and invincible ignorance, which 
affedl deeply all the concerns of the prefent world, 
have no effect upon virtue or its reward. 

In the common occurrences of life, a man of 
integrity, who hath exercifed his moral faculty 
in judging what is right and what is wrong, fees 
his duty without reafoning, as he fees the high 
way. The- cafes that require reafoning are few, 
compared with thofe that require none ; and a 
man may be very honeft and virtuous who can- 
not reafon, and who knows not what demonftra- 
tion means. 

The power of reafoning, in thofe that have it, 
may be abufed in morals, as in other matters. 
To a man who ufes it with an upright heart, and 
a Angle eye to find what is his duty, it will be 
of great ufe ; but when it is ufed to juftify what 
a man has a ftrong inclination to do, it will only 
ferve to deceive himfelf and others. When a 
man can reafon, his paffions will reafon, and they 
pre the moft cunning fophifts we meet with. 



If the rules of virtue were left to be difcover- 
ed by demonftrative reafoning, or by reafoning 
of any kind, fad would be the condition of the 
far greater part of men, who have not the means 
of cultivating the power of reafoning. As. vir- 
tue is the bufinefs of all men, the tirit principles 
of it are written in their hearts, in characters fo 
legible, that no man can pretend ignorance of 
them, or of his obligation to practife them. 

Some knowledge of duty and of moral obliga- 
tion is neceifary to all men. Without it they 
could not be moral and accountable creatures, 
nor capable of being members of civil fociety. 
It may therefore be prefumed, that Nature has 
put this knowledge within the reach of all men. 
Reafoning and demonftration are weapons which 
the greateft part of mankind never was able to 
wield. The knowledge that is neceffary to all, 
rauft be attainable by all. We fee it is fo in 
what pertains to the natural life of man. 

Some knowledge of things that are ufeful, and 
things that are hurtful, is fo neceffary to all men,, 
that without it the fpecies would foon perifh. 
But it is not by reafoning that this knowledge is 
got, far lefs by demonftrative reafoning. It is 
by our fenfes, by memory, by experience, by in- 
formation ; means of knowledge that are open 
to all men, and put the learned and the unlearn- 
ed, thofe who can reafon and thofe who cannot,, 
upon a level. 


462 ESSAY VII. [CHAP. 2. 

It may, therefore, be expected from the ana- 
logy of nature, that fuch a knowledge of morals 
as is neceffary to all men, mould be had by means 
more fuited to the abilities of all men than de- 
monftrative reafoning is. 

This, I apprehend, is in fact the cafe. When 
mens faculties are ripe, the firft principles of mo- 
rals, into which all moral reafoning may be re- 
folved, are perceived intuitively, and in a man- 
ner more analogous to the perceptions of fenfe 
than to the conclufions of demonftrative rea- 

Upon the whole, I agree with Mr Locke, that 
propofitions expreffing the congruities and incon- 
gruities of things abftracl, which moral words 
ftand for, may have all the evidence of mathe- 
matical truths. But this is not peculiar to things 
which moral words ftand for. It is common to 
abftracl propofitions of every kind. For in- 
ftance, you cannot take from a man what he has 
not. A man cannot be bound and perfectly free 
at the fame time. I think no man will call thefe 
moral truths, but they are neceffary truths, and 
as evident as any in mathematics. Indeed, they 
are very nearly allied to the two which Mr 
Locke gives as inftances of moral propofitions 
capable of demonftration. Of fuch abftracl pro- 
pofitions, I think it may more properly be faid, 
that they have the evidence of mathematical axi- 
oms, than that they are capable of demonftration. 



There are propofitions of another kind, which 
alone deferve the name of moral propofitions. 
They are fuch as affirm fomething to be the du- 
ty of perfons that really exifi. Thefe are not 
abftrac"l propofitions ; and therefore Mr Locke's 
reafoning does not apply to them. The truth 
of all fuch propofitions depends upon the confti- 
tution and circumftances of the perfons to whom 
they are applied. 

Of fuch propofitions, there are fome that are 
felf-evident to every man that has a confcience ;, 
and thefe are the principles from which all mo- 
ral reafoning muft be drawn. They may be call- 
ed the axioms of morals. But our reafoning 
from thefe axioms to any duty that is not felf- 
evident, can very rarely be demonftrative. Nor 
is this any detriment to the caufe of virtue, be- 
caufe to adt againft what appears mod probable 
in a matter of duty, is as real a trefpafs againft 
the firft principles of morality, as to act againft 
demonflration ; and becaufe he who has but one 
talent in reafoning, and makes the proper ufe of 
it, fhall be accepted, as well as he to whom God 
has given ten. 


464 ESSAY VII. [CHAP. 3* 


Of probable Reafoning. 

THE field of demonftration, as has been ob- 
ferved, is neceflary truth ; the field of pro- 
bable reafoning is contingent truth, not what ne- 
ceflarily muft be at all times, but what is, or 
was, or fhall be. 

No contingent truth is capable of ftricl: demon- 
ftration ; but neceflary truths may fometimes 
have probable evidence. 

Dr Wall is difcovered many important ma- 
thematical truths, by that kind of induction 
which draws a general conclufion from particu- 
lar premifes. This is not ftrict demonftration, 
but, in fome cafes, gives as full conviction as de- 
monftration itfelf ; and a man may be certain, 
that a truth is demonftrable before it ever has 
been demonftrated. In other cafes, a mathema- 
tical propofition may have fuch probable evi- 
dence from induction or analogy, as encourages 
the Mathematician to inveftigate its demonftra- 
tion. But frill the reafoning proper to mathema- 
tical and other neceflary truths, is demonftra- 
tion-, and that which is proper to contingent, 
truths, is probable reafoning. 



Thefe two kinds of reafoning differ in other 
refpects. In demonstrative reafoning, one argu- 
ment is as good as a thoufand. One demonltra- 
tion may be more elegant than another ; it may 
be more eafily comprehended, or it may be more 
fubfervient to fome purpofe beyond the prefent. 
On any of thefe accounts it may deferve a prefer- 
ence : But then it is fufficient by itfelf ; it needs 
no aid from another ; it can receive none. To 
add more demonstrations of the fame conclufion, 
would be a kind of tautology in reafoning ; be- 
caufe one demonft ration, clearly comprehended, 
gives all the evidence we are capable of receiv- 

The ftrength of probable reafoning, for the 
moft part, depends not upon any one argument, 
but upon many, which unite their force, and 
lead to the fame conclufion. Any one of them, 
by itfelf would be infufficient to convince ; but 
the whole taken together may have a force that 
is irreiiftible, fo that to defire more evidence 
would be abfurd. Would any man feek new 
arguments to prove that there were fuch perfons 
as King Charles the Firft, or Oliver Crom- 
well ? 

Such evidence may be compared to a rope 
made up of many flender filaments twilled toge- 
ther. The rope has ftrength more than fufficient 
to bear the ftrefs laid upon it, though no one of 

Vol. II. G g the 

466 ESSAY VII. [CHAP. 3. 

the filaments of which it is compofed would be 
fufficient for that purpofe. 

It is a common obfervation, that it is unrea- 
fonable to require demonftration for things which 
do not admit of it. It is no lefs unreafonable to 
require reafoning of any kind for things which 
are known without reafoning. All reafoning 
mud be grounded upon truths which are known 
without reafoning. In every branch of real 
knowledge there muft be firit principles whofe 
truth is known intuitively, without reafoning, 
either probable or dernonilrative. They are not 
grounded on reafoning, but all reafoning is 
grounded on them. It has been fhown, that there 
are firft principles of neceffary truths, and firft 
principles of contingent truths. Demonftrative 
reafoning is grounded upon the former, and pro- 
bable reafoning upon £he latter. 

That we may not be embarraffed by the am- 
biguity of words, it is proper to obferve, that 
there is a popular meaning of probable evidence, 
which ought not to be confounded with the phi- 
lofophical meaning, above explained. 

In common language, probable evidence is 
confidered'as an inferior degree of evidence, and 
is oppofed to certainty : So that what is cer- 
tain is more than probable, and what is only pro- 
bable is not certain. Philofophers conlider pro- 
bable evidence, not as a degree, but as a fpecies 
of evidence which is oppofed, not to certainty, 



but to another fpecies of evidence called de- 

Demonftrative evidence has no degrees • but 
probable evidence, taken in the philofophical 
fenfe, has all degrees, from the very leaft, to the 
greateft which we call certainty. 

That there is fuch a city as Rome, I am as 
certain as of any proposition in Euclid ; but the 
evidence is not demonftrative, but of that kind 
which Philofophers call probable. Yet, in com- 
mon language, it would found oddly to fay, it is 
probable there is fuch a city as Rome, becaufe it 
would imply fome degree of doubt or uncertain- 

Taking probable evidence, therefore, in the 
philofophical fenfe, as it is oppofed to demonftra- 
tive, it may have any degree of evidence, from 
the leaft to the greateft. 

I think, in moft cafes, we meafure the degrees 
of evidence by the effect they have upon a found 
underftanding, when comprehended clearly and 
without prejudice. Every degree of evidence 
perceived by the mind, produces a proportioned 
degree of affent or belief. The judgment may 
be in perfect fufpenfe between two contradictory 
opinions, when there is no evidence for either, or 
equal evidence for both. The leaft preponder- 
ancy on one fide inclines the judgment in pro- 
portion. Belief is mixed with doubt, more or 
lefs, until we come to the degree of evi- 
G g2 dence. 

468 ESSAY VII. [CHAP. 3. 

dence, when all doubt vanilhes, and the belief h 
firm and immoveable. This degree of evidence, 
the highefl the human faculties can attain, we 
call certainty. 

Probable evidince not only differs in kind from 
demonftrative, but is itfelf of different kinds. 
The chief of thefe I fhall mention, without pre- 
tending to make a complete enumeration. 

The .firft kind, is that of human teftimony, 
upon which the greateft part of human know- 
ledge is built. 

The faith of hiftory depends upon it, as well as 
the judgment of folemn tribunals, with regard to 
mens acquired rights, and with regard to their 
guilt or innocence when they are charged with 
crimes. A great part of the bufinefs of the 
Judge, of Counfel at the bar, of the Hiftorian, 
the Critic, and the Antiquarian,, is to canvafs and 
weigh this kind' of evidence ; and no man can 
act with common prudence in the ordinary oc- 
curences of life, who has not fome competent 
judgment of it. 

The belief we give to;teftimony in many cafes 
is not folely grounded upon the veracity of the 
teftifier. In a fingle teftimony, we conlider the 
motives a man. might have to falfify. If there 
be no appearance of any fuch motive, much more 
if there be motives on the other fide, his teftimo- 
ny has weight independent of his moral charac- 
ter. If the teftimony be circumflantial, we con- 
fid er 


Ilder how far the circumftances agree together, 
and with things that are known. It is fo very 
difficult to fabricate a ftory, which cannot be de- 
tected by a judicious examination of the circum- 
ftances, that it acquires evidence, by being able 
to bear fuch a trial. There is an art in detec- 
ting falfe evidence in judicial proceedings, well 
known to able Judges and Barrifters ; fo that I 
believe few falfe witnefles leave the bar without 
fufpicion of their guilt. 

When there is an agreement of many witnefles, 
in a great variety of circumftances, without the 
poffibility of a previous concert, the evidence 
may be equal to that of demonftration., 

A fecond kind of probable evidence, is the au- 
thority of thofe who are good judges of the point 
in queftion. The fupreme court of judicature of 
the Britifh nation, is often determined by the 
opinion of Lawyers in a point of law, of Phyli- 
cians in a point of medicine, and of other artifts, 
in what relates to their feveral profeffions. And, 
in the common affairs of life, we frequently rely 
upon the judgment of others, in points of which 
we are not proper judges ourfelves. 

A third kind of probable evidence, is that by 
which we recognife the identity of things, and 
perfons of our acquaintance : That two fwords, 
two horfes, or two perfons, may be fo perfectly 
alike, as not to be diftinguifhable by thofe to 
whom they are beft known, cannot be ftiown to 
G g 3 be 

47® ESSAY VII. [chap. 3. 

be impoffible. But we learn either from nature, 
or from experience, that it never happens; or fo 
very rarely, that a perfon or thing, well known 
to us, is immediately recogniied without any 
doubt, when we perceive the marks or figns by 
which we were in ufc to diftinguifh it from all 
oth ;r individuals of the kind,. 

This evidence we rely upon in the mofc im- 
portant affairs of life ; and, by this evidence, the 
identity, both of things and of perfons, is deter- 
mined in courts of judicature. 

A fourth kind of probable evidence, is that 
which we have of mens future actions and con- 
duct, from the general principles of action in 
man, or from our knowledge of the individuals. 

Notwithstanding the folly and vice that is to 
be found among men, there is a certain degree of 
prudence and probity which we rely upon in 
every man that is not infane. If it were not 
fo, no man would be fafe in the company of 
another, and there could be no fociety among 
mankind. If men were as much difpofed to hurt 
as to do good, to lie as to fpeak truth, they could 
not live together ; they would keep at as great 
diftance from one another as poffible, and the 
race would foon peri(h. 

We expect that men will take fome care of 
themfelves, of their family, friends, and reputa- 
tion : That they will not injure others without 


of probasli: reasoning, 471 

lome temptation : That they will have fome 
gratitude for good offices, and fome refentmem 
of injuries. 

Such maxims with regard to human conduct 
are the foundation of all political reafoning, and 
of common prudence in the conduct of life. 
Hardly can a man form any project in public or 
in private life, which does not depend upon the 
conduct of other men, as well as his own, and 
which does not go upon the fuppofition that men 
will act fuch a part in fuch circumltances. This 
evidence may be probable in a very high degree, 
but can never be demonftrative. The bell con- 
certed project may fail, and wife counfels may 
be fruftrated, becaufe fome individual acted a 
part which it would have been again ft all reafon 
to expect. . , 

Another kind of probable evidence, the coun- 
terpart of the laft, is that by which we collect 
mens characters and defigns from their actions, 
fpeech, and other external iigns, 

We fee not mens hearts, nor the principles by 
which they are actuated ; but there are external 
ligns of their principles and difpolitions, which, 
though not certain, may fometimes be more truf- 
ted than their profeffions ; and it is from exter- 
nal ligns that we mull draw all the knowledge 
we can attain of mens characters. 

The next kind of probable evidence I mention, 
Gg 4 is 

47 2 ESSAY VII. [chap. 3. 

is that which Mathematicians call the probabili- 
ty of chances. 

We attribute fome events to chance, becaufe 
we know only the remote caufe which mull pro- 
duce fome one event of a number ; but know 
not the more immediate caufe which determines 
a particular event of that number, in preference 
to the others. 

I think all the chances about which we reafon 
in mathematics are of this kind. Thus, in throw- 
ing a juft die upon a table, we fay it is an equal 
chance which of -the fix iides fhall be turned 
up ; becaufe neither the perfon who throws, nor* 
the byflanders know the precife meafure of force 
and direction necefiary to turn up any one fide 
rather than another. There are here therefore 
fix events, one of which mull happen ; and as 
all are fuppofed to have equal probability, the 
probability of any one fide being turned up, the 
ace, for inftance, is as one to the remaining 
number five. 

The probability of turning up two aces with 
two dice is as one to thirty-five ; becaufe here 
there are thirty-fix events, each of which has 
equal probability. 

Upon fuch principles as thefe, the doctrine of 
chances has furniflied a field of demonftrative 
reaibning of great, extent, although the events 
$bout which this reafoning is employed be not 



necefiary, but contingent, and be not certain, but 

This may feem to contradict a principle before 
advanced, that contingent truths are not capable 
of demonftration ; but it does not : For, in the 
mathematical realbnings about chance, the con- 
clusion demonftrated, is not, that fuch an event 
fhall happen, but that the probability of its hap- 
pening bears fuch a ratio to the probability of 
its failing ; and this conclufion is necefiary upon 
the fuppofitions on which it is grounded. 

The laft kind of probable evidence I fhall 
mention, is that by which the known laws of 
Nature have been difcovered, and the effects 
which have been produced by them in former 
ages, or which may be expected in time to 

The laws of Nature are the rules by which 
the Supreme Being governs the world. We de- 
duce them only from fads that fall within our 
own obfervation, or are properly attefted by 
thofe who have obferved them. 

The knowledge of fome of the laws of Na- 
ture is neceffary to all men in the conduct of life. 
Thefe are foon difcovered, even by favages. They 
know that fire burns, that water drowns, that bo- 
dies gravitate towards the earth. They know 
that day and night, fummer and winter, regu- 
larly fucceed each other. As far back as their 
experience and information reach, they know 


.474 I" 5 5 A Y VI i, [CHAP. 5. 

that thefe have happened regularly ; and, upon 
this ground, they are led, by the constitution of 
human nature, to expect that they will happen 
in time fib come, in like circumftar.ces. 

The knowledge which me Philofopher attakls 
01 the laws of Nature differs from that of the 
vulgar, not in the firit principles on which it is 
grounded, but in its extent and accuracy. He 
collects with care the phamomena that lead to 
the fame conclusion, and compares them with 
thoie that feem to contradict cr to limit it. He 
cbferves the circumfcances on which every phe- 
nomenon depends, and diitinguifhes them care- 
fully from thoie that are accidentally conjoined 
with it. He puts natural bodies in various iitu- 
uti :ns. arm apolies them to ore another in various 
wavs, on purpcie to cbierve the effect : and thus 
acquires from his fenfes a more exteniive know- 
iedre :f the coorfe of Nature in a mort time, 
than eiuli. be cdlected by caibm obfervation in 
many ages. 

Bat what is the refult of his laborious refearch- 
es : It is. that, as rar as he has been able to ob- 
ferve, inch things have always happened, in fuch 
circumstances, and fuch bodies have always been 
found to have ouch properties. Thefe are mat- 
tics of fact, attefted by fenfe, memory and tefti- 
mony. jofl as the few fads which the vulgar 
know me attefted to them, 



And what conclufions does the Philofopher 
draw from the facts he has collected ? They are, 
that like events have happened in former times 
in like circumftances, and will happen in time 
to come ; and thefe conclufions are built on the 
very fame ground on which the iimple ruflic 
concludes that the fun will rife to-morrow. 

Facts reduced to general rules, and the confe- 
quences of thofe general rules, are all that w£ 
really know of the material world. And the 
evidence that fuch general rules have no excep- 
tions, as well as the evidence that they will be 
the fame in time to come as they have been in 
time part, can never be demonftrative. It is 
only that fpecies of evidence which Philofophers 
call probable. General rules may have excep- 
tions or limitations which no man ever had oc- 
casion to obferve. The laws of Nature may be 
changed by him who eftablilhed them. But we 
are led by our conftitution to rely upon their 
continuance with as little doubt as if it was de- 
mon itr able. 

I pretend not to have made a complete enu- 
meration of all the kinds of probable evidence ; 
but thofe I have mentioned are fufficient to (how, 
that the far greateft part, and the mofl intereft- 
ing part of our knowledge, mud reft upon evi- 
dence of this kind ; and that many things are 
certain for which we have only that kind of evi- 
dence which Philofophers call probable. 


47^ ESSAY VII. {CHAP. 4. 


Of Mr Hume's Scepticifm with regard to Reafon. 

IN the Treatife of Human Nature, book 1. 
part 4. fed. 1. the author undertakes to prove 
two points : Firjl> That all that is called human 
knowledge (meaning demonftrative knowledge) 
is only probability ; and, fecondly, That this pro- 
bability, when duly examined, evanifhes by de- 
grees, and leaves at laft no evidence at all ! So 
that, in the hTue, there is no ground to believe 
any one propofition rather than its contrary, and 
" all thofe are certainly fools who reafon, or be- 
" lieve any thing." 

According to this account, reafon, that boafted 
prerogative of man, and the light of his mind, 
is an ignis fatuus, which mifleads the wandering 
traveller, and leaves him at laft in abfolute dark- 

How unhappy is the condition of man, born 
under a neceffity of believing contradictions, and 
of trufting to a guide who confefles herfelf to 
be a falfe one ! 

It is fome comfort, that this doctrine can ne- 
ver be ferioully adopted by any man in his fenfes. 
And after this author had fhown that " all the 
u rules of logic require a total extinction of all 

" belief 

of mr hume's scepticism about reason. 477 

" belief and evidence," he himfelf, and all men 
that are not infane, mud have believed many- 
things, and yielded aflent to the evidence which 
he had extinguifhed. 

This indeed he is fo candid as to acknowledge. 
" He finds himfelf abfolutely and necefTarily de- 
" termined, to live and talk and act like other 
"■ people in the common affairs of life. And 
" fince reafon is incapable of difpelling thefe 
" clouds, moft fortunately it happens, that Na- 
" ture herfelf fuffices to that purpofe, and cures 
" him of this philofophical melancholy and de • 
" lirium." See feci. 7. 

This was furely a very lynd and friendly in- 
terpolition of Nature ; for the efTecls of this phi- 
lofophical delirium, if carried into life, mud 
have been very melancholy. 

But what pity is it, that Nature, (whatever is 
meant by that perfonage), fo kind in curing this 
delirium, mould be fo cruel as to caufe it. Doth 
the fame fountain fend forth fweet waters and 
bitter ? Is it not more probable, that if the cure 
was the work of Nature, the difeafe came from 
another hand, and was the work of the Philo- 
fopher ? 

To pretend to prove by reafoning that there 
is no force in reafon, does indeed look like a phi- 
lofophical delirium. It is like a man's pretend- 
ing to fee clearly, that he himfelf and all other 
men are blind, 


47 s ESSAY VII. [chap. 4. 

A common fymptom of delirium is, to think 
that all other men aue fools or mad. This ap- 
pears to have been the cafe of our author, who 
concluded, " That all thofe are certainly fools 
" who reafon or believe any thing.'* 

Whatever was the caufe of this delirium, it 
mult be granted, that if it was real and not feign- 
ed, it was not to be cured by reafoning : For 
what can be more abfurd than to attempt to con- 
vince a man by reafoning who difowns the au- 
thority of reafon. It was therefore very for- 
tunate that Nature found other means of cu- 
ring it. 

It may, however, not be improper to inquire, 
whether, as the author thinks, it was produced 
by a juffc application of the rules of logic, or, as 
others may be apt to think, by the mifapplica- 
tion and abufe of them. 

Firji, Becaufe we are fallible, the author in- 
fers that all knowledge degenerates into proba- 

That man, and probably every created being, 
is fallible ; and that a fallible being cannot have 
that perfect comprehension and afTurance of 
truth which an infallible being has, I think 
ought to be granted. It becomes a fallible being 
to be modeft, open to new light, and fenfible, 
that by fome falfe bias, or by ra(h judging, he 
may be milled. If this be called a degree of 
fcepticifm, I cannot help approving of it, being 



perfuaded, that the man who makes the bell 
life he can of the faculties which God has given 
him, without thinking them more perfect, than 
they really are, may have all the belief that is 
neceiTary in the conduct of life, and all that is 
neceffary to his acceptance with his Maker. 

It is granted then, that human judgments 
ought always to be formed with an humble fenfe 
of our fallibility in judging. 

This is all that can be inferred by the rules 
of logic from our being fallible. And if this be 
all that is meant by our knowledge degenerating 
into probability, I know no perfon of a diffe- 
rent opinion. 

But it may be obferved, that the author here 
ufes the word probability in a fenfe for which 
I know no authority but his own. Philofophers 
underftand probability as oppofed to demonftra- 
tion ; the vulgar as oppofed to certainty ; but 
this author understands it as oppofed to infalli- 
bility, which no man claims. 

One who believes himfelf to be fallible, may 
ilill hold it to be certain that two and two make 
four, and that two contradictory proportions 
cannot both be true. He may believe fome 
things to be probable only, and other things to 
be demonstrable, without making any pretence 
to infallibility. 

If we ufe words in their proper meaning, it 
is impoinble that demonstration Oiould degene- 

480 ESSAY VII. [CHAP. 4, 

rate into probability from the imperfection of 
our faculties. Our judgment cannot change the 
nature of the things about which we judge. 
What is really demonftration, will ftill be fo, 
whatever judgment we form concerning it. It 
may likewife be obferved, that when we miftake 
that for demonftration, which really is not, the 
confequence of this miftake is, not that demon- 
ftration degenerates into probability, but that 
what we took to be demonftration is no proof at 
all ; for one falfe ftep in a demonftration deftroys 
the whole, but cannot turn it into another kind 
of proof. 

Upon the whole, then, this firft conclufion of 
our author, That the fallibility of human judg- 
ment turns all knowledge into probability, if un- 
derftood literally, is abfurd ; but if it be only a 
figure of fpeech, and means no more, but that, 
in all our judgments, we ought to be fenfible of 
our fallibility, and ought to hold our opinions 
with that modefty that becomes fallible crea- 
tures, which I take to be what the author meant, 
this, I think, nobody denies, nor was it necef- 
fary to enter into a laborious proof of it. 

One is never in greater danger of tranfgreffing 
againft the rules of logic, than in attempting to 
prove what needs no proof. Of this we have 
an inftance in this very cafe : For the author 
begins his proof, that all human judgments are 
fallible, with affirming that fome are infallible. 

" In 

of mr hume's scepticism about reason. 481 

"In all demonltrative fciences, fays he, the 
" rules are certain and infallible ; but when we 
" apply them, our fallible and uncertain facul- 
" ties are very apt to depart from them, and fall 
" into error." 

He nad forgot, furely, that the rules of de- 
monltrative fciences are difcovered by our fall- 
ible and uncertain faculties, and have no au- 
thority but that of human judgment. If they 
be infallible, fome human judgments are infall- 
ible ; and there are many in various branches 
of human knowledge which have as good a 
claim to infallibility as the rules of the demon- 
fixative fciences. 

We have reafon here to find fault with our 
author for not being fceptical enough, as well 
as for a miftake in reafoning, when he claims in- 
fallibility to certain decihons of the human fa- 
culties,, in order to prove that all their deciiions 
are fallible. 

The fecond point which he attempts to prove, 
is, That this probability, when duly examined, 
fuffers a continual diminution, and at laft a total 

The obvious confequence of this is, that no 
fallible being can have good reafon to believe 
any thing at all ; but let us hear the proof. 

" In every judgment, we ought to correct the 
" flrft judgment derived from the nature of the 
" object, by another judgment derived from the 
1,1 nature of the underftandinp;. Beiide the ori- 

Vol. II. H h " spinal 

4^2 ESSAY Vll. [CHAP. 4. 

" ginal uncertainty inherent in the fubjecl:, there 
" arifes another, derived from the weaknefs of 
" the faculty which judges. Having adjufted 
" thefe two uncertainties together, we are ob- 
" liged, by our reafon, to add a new uncertain- 
" ty, derived from the poffibility of error in the 
" eflimation we make of the truth and fidelity 
" of our faculties. This is a doubt, of whi A, 
" if we would clofely purfue our reafoning, we 
" cannot avoid giving a decifion. But this de- 
" cilion, though it mould be favourable to our 
k< preceding judgment, being founded only on 
" probability, muft weaken ftill further our firft 
" evidence. The third uncertainty muft in like 
" manner be criticifed by a fourth, and fo on 
" without end. 

" Now, as every one of thefe uncertainties 
" takes away a part of the original evidence, it 
" mull at laft be reduced to nothing. Let our 
" firft belief be ever fo ftrong, it muft infallibly 
" periih, by pairing through fo many examina- 
*' tions, each of which carries off fomewhat of 
" its force and vigour. No finite object, can fub- 
" lift under a decreafe repeated in infinitum, 

" When I reflect on the natural fallibility of 
" my judgment, I have lefs confidence in my 
" opinions, than when I only confider the ob- 
" jecls concerning which I reafon. And when 
" I proceed ftill further, to turn the fcrutiny 
" againft every fucceffive eftimation I make of 
" my faculties, all the rules of logic require a 

" continual 


" continual diminution, and at laft a total ex* 
" tinction of belief and evidence." 

This is the author's Achillean argument 
againft the evidence of reafon, from which he 
concludes, that a man who would govern his 
belief by reafon, muft believe nothing at all, and 
that belief is an act, not of the cogitative, but 
of the fenfitlve part of our nature. 

If there be any fuch thing as motion, (faid an 
ancient Sceptic) the fwift-footed Achilles 
could never overtake an old man in a journey. 
For, fuppofe the old man to fet out a thoufand 
paces before Achilles, and that while Achil- 
les has traveled the thoufand paces, the old 
man has got five hundred ; when Achilles has 
gone the five hundred, the old man has gone 
two hundred and fifty ; and when Achilles 
has gone the two hundred and fifty, the old man 
is ftill one hundred and twenty-five before him. 
Repeat thefe eltimations in infinitum, and you 
will (till find the old man foremoft ; therefore 
Achilles can never overtake him ; therefore 
there can be no fuch thing as motion. 

The reafoning of the modern Sceptic againft 
reafon is equally ingenious, and equally con- 
vincing. Indeed, they have a great fimilarity. 

If we trace the journey of Achilles two 
thoufand paces, we fhall find the very point 
where the old man is overtaken : But this fhort 
journey, by dividing it into an infinite number 
of ftages, with correfponding eftimations 3 is made 
H h 2 to 

484 ESSAY VII. [CHAP. 4. 

to appear infinite. In like manner, our author, 
fubjecting every judgment to an infinite number 
of fucceftive probable eftimations, reduces the 
evidence to nothing. 

To return then to the argument of the mo- 
dern. Sceptic. I examine the proof of a theo- 
rem of Euclid. It appears to me to be Uriel: 
demonftration. But I may have overlooked 
fome fallacy \ therefore I examine it again and 
again, but can find no flaw in it. I find all that 
have examined it agree with me. I have now 
that evidence of the truth of the propofition, 
which I and all men call demonftration, and that 
belief of it, which we call certainty. 

Here my fceptical friend interpofes, and af- 
fures me, that the rules of logic reduce this de- 
monftration to no evidence at all. I am willing 
to hear what ftep in it he thinks fallacious, and 
why. He makes no objection to any part of the 
demonftration, but pleads my fallibility in judg- 
ing. 1 have made the proper allowance for this 
already, by being open to conviction. But, fays 
he, there are two uncertainties, the firft: in- 
herent in the fubject, which I have already 
fhown to have only probable evidence; the fe- 
cond arifing from the weaknefs of the faculty 
that judges. I aniwer, It is the weaknefs of the 
faculty only that reduces this demonftration to 
what you call probability. You rauft not there- 
fore make it a fecond uncertainty ; for it is the 
fame with the firft. To take credit twice in an 


or MR. hume's scepticism about reason. 485 

account for the fame article is not agreeable to 
the rules of logic. Hitherto therefore there is 
but one uncertainty, to wit, my fallibility .in 

But, fays my friend, you are obliged by rea- 
fon to add a new uncertainty, derived from the 
poflibility of error in the eftimation you make of 
the truth and fidelity of your faculties. I anfwer, 

This eftimation is ambiguoufly exprefTed ; it 
may either mean an eftimation of my liablenefs 
to err by the mifapplication and abide of my 
faculties ; or it may mean an eftimation of my 
liablenefs to err, by conceiving my faculties to 
be true and faithful, while they may be falfe 
and fallacious in thCnifelves, even when applied 
in the beft manner. I mall confider this efti- 
mation in each of thefe fenfes. 

If the rirft be the eftimation meant, it is true 
that reafon directs us, as fallible creatures, to 
carry along with us, in all our judgments, a fenfe 
of our fallibility. It is true alfo, that we are in 
greater danger of erring in fome cafes, and lefs 
in others ; and that this danger of erring may, 
according to the circumftances of the cafe, ad- 
mit of an eftimation, which we ought like wife to 
carry along with us in every judgment we form. 

. When a demonftration is fhort and plain \ 
when the point to be proved docs not touch our 
intereft or our paffions ; when the faculty of 
judging in fuch cafes, has acquired ftrength by 
much cxercifc, there is lefs danger of erring ; 
H h 3 when 

486 ESSAY VII. [chap. 4. 

when the contrary circumftances take place, 
there is more. 

In the prefent cafe, every circumftance is fa- 
vourable to the judgment I have formed. There 
cannot be lefs danger of erring in any cafe, ex- 
cepting perhaps when I judge of a felf-evident 

The Sceptic further urges, that this decifion, 
though favourable to my firft judgment, being 
founded only on probability, mull ftill weaken 
the evidence of that judgment. 

Here 1 cannot help being of a quite contrary 
opinion, nor can I imagine how an ingenious au- 
thor could impofe upon himfelf fo grofsly, for fure- 
ly he did not intend to impofe upon his reader. 

After repeated examination of a propofition 
of Euclid, I judge it to be ftrictly demonltrated ; 
this is my firft judgment. But as I am liable to 
err from various caufes, I confider how far I may 
have been milled by any of thefe caufes in this 
judgment. My decifion upon this fecond point 
is favourable to my firft judgment, and there- 
fore, as I apprehend, mull ftrengthen it. To 
fay, that this decifion, becaufe it is only pror 
bable, mull weaken the firft evidence, feems to 
me contrary to all rules of logic, and to com-r 
mon fenfe. 

The firft judgment may be compared to the 
teftimony of a credible witnefs j the fecond, af- 
ter a fcrutiny into the character of the witnefs, 
wipes oft' every objection that can be made to it, 


of mr hume's scepticism about reason. 487 

and therefore furely muft confirm and not weak- 
en his teftimony. 

But let us fuppofe, that, in another cafe, I ex- 
amine my firft judgment upon fome point, and 
find, that it was attended with unfavourable 
circumftances. What, in reafon, and according 
to the rules of logic, ought to be the effect of 
this difcovery ? 

The effect furely will be, and ought to be, to 
make me lefs confident in my firft judgment, 
until I examine the point anew in more favour- 
able circumftances. If it be a matter of im- 
portance I return to weigh the evidence of my 
firft judgment, If it was precipitate before, it 
muft now be deliberate in every point. If at 
firft I was in paffion, I muft now be cool.- If I 
had an intereft in the decilion, I muft place the 
intereft on the other fide. 

It is evident, that this review of the fubject 
may confirm my firft judgment, notwithstand- 
ing the fufpicious circumftances that attended it. 
Though the judge was biaiTed or corrupted, it 
does not follow, that the ferstence was unjuft. 
The rectitude of the decilion does not depend 
upon the character of the judge, but upon the 
nature of the cafe. From that only, it muft be 
determined whether the decifion be juft. The 
circumftances that rendered it fufpicious are 
mere prefumptions, which have no force againft 
direct evidence. 

Thus, 1 have confidered the effect of this efti- 

mation of our liablenefs to err in our firft judg- 

H h 4 ment, 

488 ESSAY VII. [CHAP. 4. 

ment, and have allowed to it all the effe& that 
reafon and the rules of logic permit. In the cafe 
I firft fuppofed, and in every cafe where we 
can difcover no caufe of error, it affords a pre- 
fumption in favour of the firft judgment. In 
other cafes, it may afford a prefumption againft 
it. But the rules of logic require, that we 
mould not judge by prefumptions, where we 
have direct evidence. The effect of an unfa- 
vourable prefumption mould only be, to make 
us examine the evidence with the greater care. 

The Sceptic urges, in the laft place, that this 
eftimation muft be fubjected to another eftima- 
tion, that to another, and fo on in infinitum ; and 
as every new eftimation takes away from the 
evidence of the firft judgment, it muft at laft be 
totally annihilated. 

I anfwer, firjl, it has been mown above, that 
the firft eftimation, fuppofing it unfavourable, 
can only afford a prefumption againft the firft 
judgment ;■ the fecond, upon the fame fuppofi- 
tion, will be only the prefumption of a pre- 
fumption ; and the third, the prefumption that 
there is a prefumption of a prefumption. This 
infinite feries of prefumption refembles an infU 
nite feries of quantities decreafing in geometrical 
proportion, which amounts only to a finite fum. 
The infinite feries of ftages of Achilles's jour- 
ney after the old man, amounts only to two 
thoufand paces ; nor can this infinite feries of 
prefumptions outweigh one folid argument • in 


of MR Hume's scepticism about reason. 489 

favour of the firft judgment, fuppofing them all 
to be unfavourable to it. 

Secondly, I have mown, that the eftimation 
of our firft judgment may ftrengthen it ; and 
the fame thing may be faid of all the fubfequent 
eftimations. It would, therefore, be as reafon- 
able to conclude, that the firft judgment will be 
brought to infallible certainty when this feries 
of eftimations is wholly in its favour, as that its 
evidence will be brought to nothing by fuch a 
feries fuppofed to be wholly unfavourable tc t. 
But, in reality, one ferious and cool re-exan.i - 
tion of the evidence by which our firft judgment 
is fupported, has, and, in reafon, ought to have 
more force to ftrengthen or weaken it, than an 
infinite feries of fuch eftimations as our author 

Thirdly, I know no reafon nor rule in logic, that 
requires that fuch a feries of eftimations mould 
follow every particular judgment. 

A wife man who has practifed reafoning knows 
that he is fallible, and carries this convict ion 
along with him in every judgment he forms. 
He knows likewife, that he is more liable to err 
in fome cafes than in others. He has a fcale in 
his mind, by which he eftimates his liablenefs to 
err, and by this he regulates the degree of his 
affent in his firft judgment upon any point. 

The author's reafoning fuppofcs, that a man, 
when he forms his firft judgment, conceives him- 
fe}f to be infallible ; that by a fecond and fub- 


49© ESSAY VII. [chap. 4. 

fequent judgment, he difcovers that he is not in- 
fallible; and that by a third judgment, fubfe- 
quent to the fecond, he eftimates his liablenefs 
to err in fuch a cafe as the prefent. 

If the man proceed in this order, I grant, that 
his fecond judgment will, with good reafon, 
bring down the firft from fuppofed infallibility 
to fallibility ; and that his third judgment will, 
in fome degree, either ftrengthen or weaken the 
firft, as it is corrected by the fecond. 

But every man of underftanding proceeds in 
a contrary order. When about to judge in any 
particular point, he knows already that he is not 
infallible. He knows what are the cafes in 
which he is moft or leaft liable to err. The 
conviction of thefe things is always prefent to 
his mind, and influences the degree of his aflent 
in his firft judgment, as far as to him appears 

If he fhould afterwards find reafon to fufpect 
his firft judgment, and deiires to have all the fa- 
tisfaction his faculties can give, reafon will di- 
rect him not to form fuch a feries of eftimations 
upon eftimations, as this author requires, but to 
examine the evidence of his firft judgment care- 
fully and coolly ; and this review may very 
reafonably, according to its refult, either 
ftrengthen or weaken, or totally overturn his 
firft judgment. 

This infinite feries of eftimations, therefore, 
is not the method that reafon directs in order to 


of mr hume's scepticism about reason. 491 

form our judgment in any cafe. It is introdu- 
ced without neceffity, without any ufe but to 
puzzle the underftanding, and to make us think, 
that to judge, even in the fimpleft and plained 
cafes, is a matter of infurmountable difficulty 
and endlefs labour ; juft as the ancient Sceptic, to 
make a journey of two thoufand paces appear end- 
lefs, divided it into an infinite number of ftages. 

But we obferved, that the eftimation which 
our author requires may admit of another mean- 
ing, which indeed is more agreeable to the ex- 
preffion, but inconfiftent with what he advanced 

By the pombility of error in the eftimation of 
the truth and fidelity of our faculties, may be 
meant, that we may err byefteeming our faculties 
true and faithful, while they may be falfe and 
fallacious, even when ufed according to the 
rules of reafon and logic. 

If this be meant, I anfwer, firjl, That the 
truth and fidelity of our faculty of judging is, 
and mufl be taken for granted in every judgment 
ana^ in every eftimation. 

If the Sceptic can lerioufly doubt of the truth 
and fidelity of his facult of udging when pro- 
perly ufed, and fufpend 'his judgment upon that 
point till he finds proof, his fcepticifm admits of 
no cure by reafoning, and he muft even con- 
tinue in it until he have new faculties given him, 
which fhall have authority to fit in judgment 
upon the old. Nor is there any need of an end- 

492 ESSAY VII. [CHAP. 4. 

iefs fucceflion of doubts upon this fubjecr, for 
the firfl puts an end to all judgment and reafon- 
ing, and to the poflibility of conviction by that 
means. The Sceptic has here got poffeffion of 
a ftrong hold which is impregnable to reafoning, 
and we muft leave him in poffeffion of it, till 
Nature, by other means, makes him give it up. 

Secondly, I obferve, that this ground of fcep- 
ticifm, from the fuppofed infidelity of our facul- 
ties, contradicts what the author before advan- 
ced in this very argument, to wit, that " the 
" rules of the demonftrative fciences are certain 
" and infallible, and that truth is the natural 
" effect of reafon, and that error ariles from 
u the irruption of other caufes." 

But perhaps he made thefe conceffions unwa- 
rily. He is therefore at liberty to retract them, 
and to reft his fcepticifm upon this fole founda- 
tion, That no reafoning can prove the truth and 
fidelity of our faculties. Here he ftands upon 
firm ground : For it is evident, that every argu- 
ment offered to prove the truth and fidelity of 
our faculties, takes for granted the thing in ques- 
tion, and is therefore that kind of fophifm which 
Logicians call petitio principi. 

All we would afk of this kind of Sceptic is, 
that he would be uniform and confident, and 
that his practice in life do not belie his profeffion 
of fcepticifm with regard to the fidelity of his 
faculties ; For the want of faith, as well as faith 
ftfelf, is heft fhown by works. If a Sceptic avoid 


of mr hume's scepticism about reason. 493 

the fire as much as thofe who believe it dangerous 
to go into it, we can hardly avoid thinking his 
fcepticifm to be feigned, and not real. 

Our author indeed was aware, that neither 
his fcepticifm, nor that of any other perfon, was 
able to endure this trial, and therefore enters 
a caveat againft it. " Neither I, fays he, 
" nor any other perfon, was ever fincerely and 
" conftantly of that opinion. Nature, by an 
" abfolute and uncontrollable neceffity, ha sde- 
" termined us to judge, as well as to breathe 
" and feel. My intention, therefore, fays he, 
" in difplaying fo carefully the arguments of 
" that fantaftic feci:, is only to make the reader 
" fenlible of the truth of my hypothelis, that 
" all our reafonings concerning caufes and ef- 
" feels, are derived from nothing but cuftoim 
" and that belief is more properly an act of the 
" fenfitive than of the cogitative part of our na~ 
" ture." 

We have before conlidered the firfl part of 
this hypothelis, Whether our reafoning about 
caufes be derived only from cuftom ? 

The other part of the author's hypothelis here 
mentioned is darkly expreifed, though the ex- 
preffion feems to be ftudied, as it is put in Italics. 
It cannot furely mean that belief is not an acl of 
thinking. It is not, therefore, the power of 
thinking that he calls the cogitative part of our 
nature. Neither can it be the power of judging, 
for all belief implies judgment : and to believe 


494 ESSAY vir. [chap. 4. 

a propofition means the fame thing as to judge 
it to be true. It feems, therefore, to be the 
power of reafoning that he calls the cogitative 
part of our nature. 

If this be the meaning, I agree to it in part. 
The belief of firft principles is not an act of the 
reafoning power : For all reafoning muft be 
grounded upon them. We judge them to be 
true, and believe them without reafoning. But 
why this power of judging of firft principles 
fhould be called the fenhtive part of our nature, 
I do not underftand. 

As our belief of firft principles is an act of 
pure judgment without reafoning ; fo our belief 
of the conclufions drawn by reafoning from firft 
principles, may, I think, be called an act of the 
reafoning faculty. 

Upon the whole, I fee only two conclufions 
that can be fairly drawn from this profound and 
intricate reafoning againft reafon. The firft is, 
That we are fallible in all our judgments and in 
all our reafonings. The fecond, That the truth 
and fidelity of our faculties can never be pro- 
ved by reafoning ; and therefore our belief of it 
cannot be founded on reafoning. If the laft be 
what the author calls his hypothefis, I fubfcribe 
to it, and think it not an hypothefis, but a ma- 
nifeft truth ; though I conceive' it to be very 
improperly expreffed, by faying, that belief is 
more properly an act of the fenfitive than of the 
cogitative part of our nature. 




Of Tafte in general. 

THAT power of the mind by which we are 
capable of difcerning and reliihing the 
beauties of Nature, and whatever is excellent in 
the fine arts, is called tafte. 

The external fenfe of tafte, by which we di- 
flinguim and relifti the various kinds of food, 
has given occafion to a metaphorical application 
of its name to this internal power of the mind, 
by which we perceive what is beautiful, and 
what is deformed or defective in the various ob- 
jects that we contemplate. 

Like the tafte of the palate, it relilhes fome 
things, is difgufted with others j with regard to 



many, is indifferent or dubious, and is confide- 
rably influenced by habit, by aflbciations, and 
by opinion. Thefe obvious analogies between 
external and internal tafte, have led men, in all 
ages, and in all or moft polifhed languages, to 
give the name of the external fenfe to this power 
of difcerning what is beautiful witli pleafure, 
and what is ugly and faulty in its kind with dif- 

In treating of this as an intellectual power of 
the mind, I intend only to make fome obferva- 
tions, firft on its nature, and then on its objects. 

1. In the external fenfe of tafte, we are led 
by reafon and reflection to diftinguifti between 
the agreeable fenfation we feel, and the quality 
in the objed which occalions it. Both have the 
fame name, and on that account are apt to be 
confounded by the vulgar, and even by Philofo- 
phers. The fenfation I feel when I tafte any 
fapid body is in my mind ; but there is a real 
quality in the body which is the caufe of this 
fenfation. Thefe two things have the fame name 
in language, not from any fimilitude i'n their na- 
ture, but becaufe the one is the fign of the other, 
and becaufe there is little occaiion in common 
life to diftinguiih them. 

This wa*s fully explained ift' 4 treating of the 
fecondary qualities of bodies. The reafon of 
taking notice of it now is, that the internal 



power of tafte bears a great analogy in this re- 
( fpect to the external. 

When a beautiful object is before us, we may 
diftinguiih the agreeable emotion it produces in 
us, from the quality of the object which caufes 
that emotion. When I hear an air in mufic 
that pleafes me, I fay, it is fine, it is excellent. 
This excellence is not in me ; it is in the mufic. 
But the pleafure it gives is not in the mufic ; it 
is in me. Perhaps I cannot fay what it is in 
the tune that pleafes my ear, as I cannot fay 
what it is in a fapid body that pleafes my 
palate ; but there is a quality in the fapid body 
which pleafes my palate, and I call it a delicious 
tafte.; and there is a quality in the tune that 
pleafes my tafte, and I call it a fine or an excel- 
lent air. 

This ought the rather to be obferved, becaufe 
it is become a fafhion among modern Philofo- 
phers, to refolve all our perceptions into mere 
feelings or fenfations in the perfon that perceives, 
without any thing correfponding to thofe feel- 
ings in the external object. According to thofe 
Philofophers, there is no heat in the fire, no tafte 
in a fapid body ; the tafte and the heat being 
only in the perfon that feels them. In like man- 
ner, there is no fe.eauty in any objecl; whatfoever ; 
it is onl feriiation or feeling in the perfon that 
perceives it. 

Vol. II. I i The 

49^ ESSAY VIII. [chap. I. 

The language and the common fenfe of man- 
kind contradict this theory. Even thofe who 
hold it, find themfelves obliged to ufe a lan- 
guage that contradicts it. I had occafion to 
fhow, that there is no folid foundation for it 
when applied to the fecondary qualities of body ; 
and the fame arguments mow equally, that it 
has no folid foundation when applied to the 
beauty of objects, or to any of thofe qualities 
that are perceived by a good tafte. 

But though fome of the qualities that pleafe a 
good tafte refemble the fecondary qualities of 
body, and therefore may be called occult quali- 
ties, as we only feel their effect, and have no 
more knowledge of the caufe, but that it is fome- 
thing which is adapted by Nature to produce 
that effect ; this is not always the cafe. 

Our judgment of beauty is in many cafes more 
enlightened. A work of art may appear beauti- 
ful to the moil ignorant, even to a child. It 
pleafes, but he knows not why. To one who 
underftands it perfectly, and perceives how every 
part is fitted with exact judgment to its end, the 
beauty is not myrterious ; it is perfectly compre- 
hended ; and he knows wherein it coniifts, as 
well as how it affects him. 

i. We may obferve, that, though all the taftes 
we perceive by the palate are either agreeable 
or difagreeablc, or indifferent ; yet, among thofe 
that are agreeable, there is great diverfity, not in 



degree only, but in kind. And as we have not 
generical names for all the different kinds of 
tafte, we diftinguifh them by the bodies in which 
they are found. 

In like manner, all the objects of our internal 
tafte are either beautiful, or difagreeable, or in- 
different ; yet of beauty there is a great diverfi- 
ty, not only of degree, but of kind : The beau- 
ty of a demonftration, the beauty of a poem, the 
beauty of a palace, the beauty of a piece of mu- 
lic, the beauty of a fine woman, and many more 
that might be named, are different kinds of beau- 
ty ; and we have no names to diftinguifh them 
but the names of the different objects to which 
they belong. 

As there is fuch diverfity in the kinds of beau- 
ty as well as in the degrees, we need not think it 
itrange that Philofophers have gone into differ- 
ent fyftems in analy'fing it, and enumerating its 
iimple ingredients. They have made many juft 
obfervations on the fubjecl ; but, from the love 
of fimplicity, have reduced it to fewer princi- 
ples than the nature of the thing will permit, ha- 
ving had in their eye fome particular kinds of 
beauty, while they overlooked others. 

There are moral beauties as well as natural ; 
.beauties in the objects of fenfe, and in intellectual 
objects ; in the works of men, and in the works 
of God ; in things inanimate, in brute animals, 
and in rational beings ; in the conflitution of the 
I i z body 

500 ESSAY VIII. [CHAP. 1. 

body of man, and in the conflitution of his mind. 
There is no real excellence which has not its 
beauty to a discerning eye, when placed in a pro- 
per point of view ; and it is as difficult to enume- 
rate the ingredients of beauty as the ingredients 
of real excellence. 

3. The tafte of the palate may be accounted 
mod j uft and perfect, when we relim'the things 
that are fit for the nouriftiment of the body, and 
are difgufted with things of a contrary nature. 
The manifeit intention of Nature in giving us 
this fenfe, is, that we may difcern what it is fit 
for us to eat and to drink, and what it is not. 
Brute animals are directed in the choice of their 
food merely by their tafte. Led by this guide, 
they choofe the food that Nature intended for 
them, and feldom make miftakes, unlefs they be 
pinched by hunger, or deceived by artificial com- 
pofitions. In infants likewife the tafte is com- 
monly found and uncorrupted, and of the fimple 
productions of Nature they reliih the things that 
'are moft wholefome. 

In like manner, our internal tafte ought to be 
accounted moil jufi and perfect, when we are 
pleafed with things that are moil excellent in 
their kind, and difpleafed with the contrary. 
The intention of Nature is no lefs evident in this 
internal tafte than in the external. Every ex- 
cellence has a real beauty and charm that makes 
it an agreeable object to thofe who have the fa- 


culty of difcerning its beauty ; and this faculty 
is what we call a good tafte. 

A man, who, by any diforder in his mental 
powers, or by bad habits, has contracted a.relifli 
for what has no real excellence, or what is de- 
formed and defective, has a depraved tafte, like 
°one who finds a more agreeable relifli in afhes or 
cinders than in the moil wholeibme food!. As 
we mud acknowledge the tafte of the palate to 
be depraved in this cafe, there is the fame reafon 
to think the tafte of the mind depraved in the 

There is therefore a juft and rational tafte, and 
there is a depraved and corrupted tafte. For it 
is too evident, that, by bad education, bad ha- 
bits, and wrong affbciations, men may acquire a 
jcelifh for naftinefs, for rudenefs, and ill breeding, 
and for many other deformities. To fay that 
fuch a tafte is not vitiated, is no iefs abfurd than 
to fay, that the lickly girl who delights in eating 
charcoal and tobacco-pipes, has as juft and natu- 
ral a tafte as when fhe is in perfect health. 

4. The force of cuftom, of fancy, and of ca- 
rnal affbciations, is very great both upon the ex- 
ternal and internal tafte. An Efquimaux can 
regale himfelf with a draught of whale oil, and 
a Canadian can feaft upon a dog. A Kamfchat- 
kadale lives upon putrid fifh, and is fometimes 
reduced to cat the bark of trees. The tafte of 
rum, or of green tea, is at firft as naufeous as 
I i 3 that 

502 ESSAY VII*. [CHAP. I". 

that of ipecacuanha,, to fome perfons, who may be 
brought by ufe to relifh what they once found 
fo difagreeable. 

When we fee fuch varieties in the tafle of the 
palate produced by cuftom and affociations, and 
fome perhaps by conftitution, we may be the lef& 
furprifed that the fame caufes ihould produce® 
like varieties in the tafle of beauty ; that the 
African fhould efteem thick lips and a flat nofe y 
that other nations fhould draw out their ears, 
till they hang over their moulders ; that in one 
nation ladies fhould paint their faces, and in 
another fhould make them fhine with greafe. 

5. Thofe who conceive that there is no ftand- 
atrd! in nature by which tafle may be regulated, 
and that the common proverb, That there ought 
to be no dijpute about tafle,. is to be taken in the 
Utmofl latitude, go upon flender and infufficient 
ground. The fame arguments might be ufed 
with equal force againfl any flandard of truth. 

Whole nations by the force of prejudice are 
brought to believe the groiTefl abfurdities ; and 
why fhould it be thought that the tafle is lefs 
capable of being perverted than the judgment ? 
It mull indeed be acknowledged, that men dif- 
fer more in the faculty of tafle than in what we 
commonly call judgment ; and therefore it may 
be expected that they mould be more liable to 
have their tafte corrupted in matters of beauty 



and deformity, than their judgment in matters 
of truth and error. 

If we make due allowance for this, we fhall 
fee that it is as eafy to account for the variety of 
taftes, though there be in nature a ftandard of 
true beauty, and confequently of good tafte ; as 
it is to account for the variety and contrariety 
of opinions, though there be in nature a ftand- 
ard of truth, and confequently of right judg- 

6. Nay, if we fpeak accurately and ftriclly, 
we mall find, that, in every operation of tafte, 
there is judgment implied. 

When a man pronounces a poem or a palace 
to be beautiful, he affirms fomething of that 
poem or that palace ; and every affirmation or 
denial exprefTes judgment. For we cannot bet- 
ter define judgment, than by faying that it is an 
affirmation or denial of one thing concerning an- 
other. I had occafion to {how, when treating of 
judgment, that it is implied in every perception 
of our external fenfes. There is an immediate 
conviction and belief of the exiftence of the qua-* 
lity perceived, whether it be colour, or found, or 
figure ; and the fame thing holds in the percep* 
tion of beauty or deformity. 

If it be faid that the perception of beauty 

is merely a feeling in the mind that perceives, 

without any belief of excellence in the object, 

the neceflary confequence of this opinion is, that 

I i 4 when 

5°4 ESSAY VIII. [chap. I. 

when I fay Virgil's Georgics is a beautiful 
poem, I mean not to fay any thing of the poem, 
but only ibmething concerning myfelf and my 
feelings. Why fhoulci I ufe a language that ex- 
preffes the contrary of what I mean ? 

My language, according to the neceffary rules 
of conftru&ion, can bear no other meaning but 
this, that there is fomething in the poem, and 
not in rrie, which I call beauty. Even thofe who 
hold beauty to be merely a feeling in the perfon 
that perceives it, find themfelves under a necef- 
lity of expreffing themfelves, as if beauty were 
folely a quality of the objecl, and not of the per- 

No reafon can be given why ail mankind mould 
exprefs themfelves thus, but that they believe 
what they fay. It is therefore contrary to the 
univerfal fenfe of mankind, expreifed by their lan- 
guage, that beauty is not really in the objecl:, but 
is merely a feeling in the perfon who is faid to 
perceive it. Philofophers thould be very cau- 
tious in oppofing the common fenfe of mankind ; 
for, when they do, they rarely mifs going wrong. 

Our judgment ot beauty is not indeed a dry 
and unaffecting judgment, like that of a mathe- 
matical or metaphyseal truth. By the cojiflitu- 
tion of our nature, it is accompanied with an 
agreeable feeling cr emotion, for which we have 
no other name but the fenfe of beauty. This 



fenfe of beauty, like the perceptions of our other 
fenfes, implies not only a feeling, but an opinion 
of fome quality in the object which occafions 
that feeling. 

In objects that pleafe the tafte, we always 
judge that there is fome real excellence, fome 
fuperiority to thofe that do not pleafe. In fome 
cafes, that fuperior excellence is diftinctly per- 
ceived, and can be pointed out ; in other cafes, 
we have only a general notion of fome excel- 
lence which we cannot defcribe. Beauties of 
the former kind may be compared to the primary 
qualities perceived by the external fenfes ; thofe 
of the latter kind, to the fecondary. 

7. Beauty or deformity in an object, refults 
from its nature or ftructure. To perceive the 
beauty therefore, we mull perceive the nature 
or ftructure from which it refults. In this the 
internal fenfe differs from the external. Our 
external fenfes may difcover qualities which 
do not depend upon any antecedent perception. 
Thus I can hear the found of a bell, though I 
never perceived any thing elfe belonging to it. 
But it is impoffible to perceive the beauty of an 
object without perceiving the object, or at leait 
conceiving it. On this account, Dr Hutcheson 
called the fenfes of beauty and harmony reflex 
or fecondary fenfes ; becaufe the beauty cannot 
be perceived unlefs the object be perceived by 
fome other power of the mind. Thus the fenfe 

, .. , of 

5°6 ESSAY VIII. [CHAP. 2. 

of harmony and melody in founds fuppofes the 
external fenfe of hearing, and is a kind of fe- 
condary to it. A man born deaf may be a good 
judge of beauties of another kind, but can have 
no notion of melody or harmony. The like may 
be faid of beauties in colouring and in figure, 
which can never be perceived without the fenfes, 
by which colour and figure are perceived. 


Of the Objects of Tafte, and firjl of Novelty, 

A Philosophical analyfis of the objects of 
tafle is like applying the anatomical knife 
to a fine face. The defign of the Philofopher, 
as well as of the Anatomift, is not to gratify 
tafte, but to improve knowledge. The reader 
ought to be aware of this, that he may not en- 
tertain an expectation in which he will be dif- 

By the objects of tafte, I mean thofe qualities 
or attributes of things, which are by Nature 
adapted to pleafe a good tafte. Mr Addison, 
and Dr Akenside after him, have reduced 
them to three, to wit, novelty, grandeur, and 
beauty. This divifion is fufficient for all I in- 
tend to fay upon the fubject, and therefore I 
fhall adopt it ; obferving only, that beauty is of- 


ten taken in fo extenfive a fenfe as to compre- 
hend all the objects of tafte ; yet all the authors 
I have met with, who have given a diviiion of 
the objecls of tafte, make beauty one fpecies. 

I take the reafon of this to be, that we have 
'fpeciflc names for fome of the qualities that 
pleafe the tafte, but not for all ; and therefore 
all thofe fall under the general name of beauty, 
for which there is no fpecific name in the di- 

There are, indeed, fo many fpecies of beauty, 
that it would be as difficult to enumerate them 
perfectly, as to enumerate all the taftes we per- 
ceive by the palate. Nor does there appear to 
me fufficient reafon for making, as fome very in- 
genious authors have done, as many different in- 
ternal fenfes as there are different fpecies of 
beauty or deformity. 

The diviiion of our external fenfes is taken 
from the organs of perception, and not from the 
qualities perceived. We have not the fame 
means of dividing the internal ; becaufe, though 
fome kinds of beauty belong only to objects of 
the eye, and others to objecls of the ear, there 
are many which we cannot refer to any bodily 
organ ; and therefore I conceive every diviiion 
that has been made of our internal fenfes to be 
in fome degree arbitrary. They may be made 
more or fewer, according as we have diftindl 
names for the various kinds of beauty and de- 
formity ; 

508 ESSAY VIII. [chap. 1, 

formity ; and I fufpect the moft copious lan- 
guages have not names for them all. 

Novelty is not properly a quality of the thing 
to which we attribute it, far lefs is it a fenfation 
in the°mind to which it is new • it is a relation 
which the thing has to the knowledge of the 
perfon. What is new to one man, may not be 
fo to another ; what is new this moment, may 
be familiar to the fame perfon fome time hertce. 
When an object is firft brought to our know- 
ledge, it is new, whether it be agreeable or not. 

It is evident, therefore, with, regard to novel- 
ty, (whatever may be faid of other objects of 
iafte), that it is not merely a fenfation in the 
mind of him to whom the thing is new * it is a 
real relation which the thing has to his know- 
ledge at that time. 

But we are fo conftituted, that what is new to 
us, commonly gives pleasure upon that account, 
if it be not in itfelf difagreeable. It roufes our 
attention, and occalions an agreeable exertion of 
our faculties. , 

The pleafure we receive from novelty in ob- 
jects has fo great influence in human life, that it 
well deferves the attention of Philofophers ; and 
feveral ingenious authors, particularly, Dr Ger- 
ard in his Effay on Tafte, have, I think, fuc- 
cefsfully accounted for it, from the principles of 
the human conftitution. 



We can perhaps conceive a being fo made, 
that his happinefs confifts in a continuance of 
the fame unvaried fenfations or feelings, without 
any active exertion on his part. Whether this 
be pofhble or not, it is evident that man is not 
fuch a being ; his good confifts in the vigorous 
exertion of his active and intellective powers up- 
on their proper objects ; he is made for action 
and progrefs, and cannot be happy without it \ 
his enjoyments feem to be given by Nature, not 
fo much for their own fake, as to encourage the 
exercife of his various powers. That tranquil- 
lity of foul in which fome place human happi- 
nefs, is not a dead reft, but a regular progrefiive 

Such is the conititution of man by the ap- 
pointment of Nature. This conititution is per- 
haps a part of the imperfection of our nature ; 
but it is wifely adapted to our ft ate, which is not 
intended to be ftationary, but progreilive. The 
eye is not fatiated with feeing, nor the ear with 
hearing ; fomething is always wanted. Deiire 
and hope never ceafe, but remain to fpur us on 
to fomething yet to be acquired ; and, if they 
could ceafe, human happinefs muft end with 
them. That our defire and hope be properly di- 
rected, is our part ; that they can never be extin- 
guished, is the work of Nature. 

It is this that makes human life fo bufy a fcene. 
Man muft be doing fomething, good or bad, 


510 essay' VIII. [chap. 2. 

trifling or important ; and he muft vary the em- 
ployment of his faculties, or their excercife will 
become languid, and the pleafure that attends it 
ficken of courfe. 

The notions of enjoyment, and of activity, 
confidered abftractly, are no doubt very different, 
and we cannot perceive a neceffary connection 
between them. But, in our conftitution, they 
are fo connected by the wifdom of Nature, that 
they muft go hand in hand ; and the firft muft 
be led and fupported by the laft. 

An object at firft, perhaps, gave much plea- 
fure, while attention was directed to it with vi- 
gour. But attention cannot be long confined to 
one unvaried object, nor can it be carried round 
in the fame narrow circle. Curiofity is a capi- 
tal principle in the human conftitution, and its 
food muft be what is in fome refpect new. What 
is faid of the Athenians may in fome degree be 
applied to all mankind, That their time is fpent 
in hearing, or telling, or doing fome new thing. 

Into this part of the human conftitution, I 
think, we may refolve the pleafure we have from 
novelty in objects. 

Curiofity is commonly ftrongeft in children 
and in young perfons, and accordingly novelty 
pleafes them moll. In all ages, in proportion as 
novelty gratifies curiofity, and occafions a vigo- 
rous exertion of any of our mental powers in 
attending to the new object, in the fame propor- 


tion it gives pleafure. In advanced life, the in- 
dolent and inactive have the ftrongeft paffion for 
news, as a relief from a painful vacuity of 

But the pleafure derived from new objects, in 
many cafes, is not owing folely or chiefly to their 
being new, but to fome other circumltance that 
gives them value. The new fafhion in drefs, fur- 
niture, equipage, and other accommodations of 
life, gives pleafure, not fo much, as I apprehend, 
becaufe it is new, as becaufe it is a fign of rank, 
and diftinguifhes a man from the vulgar. 

In fome things novelty is due, and the want of 
it a real imperfection. Thus, if an author adds 
to the number of books, with which the public 
is already overloaded, we expect; from him fome- 
thing new ; and if he fays nothing but what has 
been faid before in as agreeable a manner, we 
are juftly difgufted. 

When novelty is altogether feparated from the 
conception of worth and utility, it makes but a 
flight impreflion upon a truly correct tafte. Every 
difcovery in nature, in the arts, and in the fcien- 
ces, has a real value, and gives a rational plea- 
fure to a good talle. But things that have no- 
thing to recommend them but novelty, are fit 
only to entertain children, or thofe who are di- 
ftreffed from a vacuity of thought. This quali- 
ty of objects may therefore be compared to the 
cypher in arithmetic, which adds greatly to the 


5 12 ESSAY VIII. [CHAP. 3. 

value of fignificant figures ; but, when put by 
itfelf, fignifies nothing at all. 


Of Grandeur, 

THE qualities which pleafe the tafte are not 
more various in themfelves than are the 
emotions and feelings with which they affect 
our minds. 

Things new and uncommon affect us with a 
pleafing furprife, which roufes and invigorates 
our attention to the object. But this emotion 
foon flags, if there is nothing but novelty to give 
it continuance, and leaves no effect upon the 

The emotion raifed by grand objects is awful, 
foleirfn, and ferious. 

Of all objects of contemplation, the Supreme 
Being is the mod grand. His eternity, his im- 
menfity, his irrefiftible power, his infinite know- 
ledge and unerring wifdom, his inflexible juftice 
and rectitude, his fupreme government, con- 
ducting all the movements of this vaft univerfe 
to the nobleft ends, and in the wifeft manner, 
are objects which fill the utmoft capacity of the 
foul, and reach far beyond its comprehenfion. 



The emotion which this grandeft of all ob- 
jects raifes in the human mind, is what we call 
devotion ; a ferious recollected temper which 
infpires magnanimity, and difpofes to the molt 
herioic acts of virtue. 

The emotion produced by other objects which 
may be called grand, though in an inferior de- 
gree, is, in its nature and in its effects, fimilar to 
that of devotion. It difpofes to ferioufnefs, ele- 
vates the mind above its ufual Hate, to a kind of 
enthujfiafm, and infpires magnanimity, and a 
contempt of what is mean. 

Such, I conceive, is the emotion which the 
contemplation of grand objects raifes in us. We 
are next to confider what this grandeur in ob- 
jects is. 

To me it feems to be nothing elfe but fuch a 
degree of excellence, in one kind or another, as 
merits our admiration. 

There are fome attributes of mind which have 
a real and intrinfic excellence, compared with 
their contraries, and which, in every degree, are 
the natural objects of efteem, but, in an uncom- 
mon degree are objects of admiration. We 
put a value upon them becaufe they are intrin- 
fically valuable and excellent. 

The fpirit of modern philofophy would in- 
deed lead us to think, that the worth and value 
we put upon things is only a fenfation in our 
minds, and not any thing inherent in the object;, 

Vol. II. K k an4 

514 ESSAY VIII. [chap. 3. 

and that we might have been fo conftituted as 
to put the higheft value upon the things which 
we now defpife, and to defpife the qualities 
which we now highly efteem. 

It gives me pleafure to obferve, that Dr Price, 
in his Review of the Queftions concerning mo- 
rals, ftrenuoufly oppofes this opinion, as well as 
that which refolves moral right and wrong into 
a fenfation in the mind of the fpectator. That 
judicious author faw the confequences which 
thefe opinions draw after them, and has traced 
them to their fource, to wit, the account given 
by Mr Locke, and adopted by the generality of 
modern Philofophers, of the origin of all our 
ideas, which account he Ihows to be very defec- 

This pronenefs to refolve every thing into 
feelings and fenfations, is an extreme into which 
we have been led by the defire of avoiding an 
oppofite extreme, as common in the ancient phi- 

At firft, men are prone by nature and by ha- 
bit to give all their attention to things external. 
Their notions of the mind, and its operations, 
are formed from fome analogy they bear to ob- 
jects of fenfe; and an external exiftence is 
afcribed to things which are only conceptions or 
feelings of the mind. 

This fpirit prevailed much in the philofophy 
both of Plato and of Aristotle., and pro- 


duced the myfterious notions of eternal and felf- 
exiitent ideas, of materia prima, of fubftantial 
forms, and others of the like nature. 

From the time of Des Cartes, philofophy 
took a contrary turn. That great man difcover- 
ed, that many things fuppofed to have an ex- 
ternal exiftence, were only conceptions or feel- 
ings of the mind. This track has been purfued 
by his fucceiTbrs to fuch an extreme, as to re- 
folve every thing into fenfations, feelings, and 
ideas in the mind, and to leave notjiing external 
at all. 

The Peripatetics thought, that heat and cold 
which we feel to be qualities of external objects. 
The moderns make heat and cold to be fenfa- 
tions only, and allow no real quality of body to 
be called by that name : And the fame judg- 
ment they have formed with regard to all fe- 
condary qualities. 

So far Des Cartes and Mr Locke went. 
Their fucceflbrs being put into this track of 
converting into feelings things that were be- 
lieved to have an external exiftence, found that 
extenfion, folidity, figure, and all the primary 
qualities of body, are fenfations or feelings of the 
mind ; and that the material world is a pheno- 
menon only, and has no exiftence but in our mind. 

It was then a very natural progrefs to con- 
ceive, that beauty, harmony, and grandeur, the 
objects of tafte, as well as right and wrong, the 
K k 2 objects 

516 E 5 5 A y virf. [chap. 3'„ 

objects of the moral faculty, are nothing but 
feelings of the mind. 

Thofe who are acquainted with the writings- 
of modern Philofophers, can eafily trace this 
doctrine of feelings, from Des Cartes down to 
Mr Hume, who put the finifhing ftroke to it, by 
making truth and error to be feelings of the 
mind, and belief to be an operation of the fen- 
fitive part of our nature. 

To return to our fubject, if we hearhen to the 
dictates of common fenfe, we muft be convinced 
that there is real excellence in fome things, 
whatever our feelings or our conftitution be. 

It depends no doubt, upon our conftitution, 
whether we do, or do not perceive excellence 
where it really is : But the object has its excel- 
lence from its own conftitution, and not from ours. 

The common judgment of mankind in this, 
matter fufhciently appears in the language of all 
nations, which uniformly afcribes excellence, 
grandeur, and beauty to the object, and not to 
the mind that perceives it. And I believe in 
,this, as in moft other things, we mail find the 
common judgment of mankind and true philofo- 
phy not to be at variance. 

Is not pow T er in its nature more excellent than 
weaknefs ; knowledge than ignorance ; wifdom- 
than folly ; fortitude than pulillanimity ? 

Is there no intrinfic excellence in felf-com- 
mand, in generofity, in public fpirit ? Is not 

friend ill ip 


rriendfhip a better affe&ion of mind than ha- 
tred ; a noble emulation, than envy ? 

Let us fuppofe, if pofiible, a being fo confti- 
tuted, as to have a high refpecl for ignorance, 
weaknefs, and folly ; to venerate cowardice, ma- 
lice, and envy, and to hold the contrary quali- 
ties in contempt ; to have an efteem for lying 
and falfehood, and to love moll thofe who im- 
pofed upon him, and ufed him worft. Could 
we believe fuch a conftitution to be any thing 
elfe than madnefs and delirium ? It is impoffible. 
We can as eafily conceive a conftitution, by 
which one mould perceive two and three to 
make fifteen, or a part to be greater than the 

Every one who attends to the operations of his 
own mind will find it to be certainly true, as it 
is the common belief of mankind, that efteem is 
led by opinion, and that every perfon draws our 
efteem, as far only as he appears either to reafon 
or fancy to be amiable and worthy. 

There is therefore a real intrinfic excellence 
in fome qualities of mind, as in power, know- 
ledge, wifdom, virtue, magnanimity. Thefe in 
every degree merit efteem ; but in an uncom- 
mon degree they merit admiration; and that 
which merits admiration we call grand. 

In the contemplation of uncommon excel- 
lence, the mind feels a noble enthufiafm, which 
difpofes it to the imitation of what it admires. 

K k 3 When 

5-i8 ESSAY VIII. [chap. 3. 

When we contemplate the character of Cato, 
his greatnefs of foul, his fuperiority to pleafure, 
to toil, and to danger, his ardent zeal for the 
liberty of his country ; when we fee him Hand- 
ing unmoved in misfortunes, the laft pillar of 
the liberty of Rome, and falling nobly in his 
country's ruin, who would not wifli to be Cato 
rather than Cjesar in all his triumph ? 

Such a fpedtacle of a great foul ftruggling 
with misfortune, Seneca thought not unworthy 
of the attention of Jupiter himfelf, " Ecce 
*' fpectaculum Deo dignum, ad quod refpiciat 
" Jupiter fuo operi . intentus, vir fortis cum 
" mala fortuna compoiitus." 

As the Deity is of all objects of thought the 
moil grand, the defcriptions given in holy writ 
of his attributes and works, even when clothed 
in fimple expreffion, are acknowledged to be fu- 
blime. The expreffion of Moses, " And God 
" faid, Let there be light, and there was light," 
has not efcaped the notice of Longinus, a Hea- 
then Critic, as an example of the fublirne. 

What we call fublirne in defcription, or in 
fpeech of any kind, is a proper expreffion of the 
admiration and enthuiiafm which the fubject 
produces in the mind of the fpeaker. If this 
admiration and enthufiafm appears to be juft, it 
carries the hearer along with' it involuntarily, 
and by a kind of violence rather than by cool 
conviction : For no paffions are fo infectious as 
tho.fe which hold of enthuliaim. 



But, on the other hand, if the paffion of the 
ipeaker appears to be in no degree juftified by 
the fubject. or the occafion, it produces in the 
judicious hearer no other emotion but rklicule 
and contempt. 

. The true fublime cannot be .produced folely 
by art in the compofition ; it muii take its rife 
from grandeur in the fubject, and a correfpond- 
ing emotion raifed in the mind of the fpeaker* 
A proper exhibition of thefe, though it lliould 
be artiefs, is irrefiftible, like lire thrown into the 
midft of combuftible matter. 

When we contemplate the earth, the fea, the 
planetary -fy ft-em, the univerfe, thefe are vaft ob- 
jects ; it requires a ftretch of imagination to 
grafp them in our minds. But they appear 
truly grand, and merit the higher! admiration, 
when we coniider them as the work of God, 
who, in the fimple ftyie of feripture, -it-retched 
out the heavens, and laid the foundation of the 
earth ; or, in the poetical language of Milton, 

In his hand 
He took the golden compafles, prepar'd, 
In God's eternal ftore, to circumfcribe 
This univerfe, and all created things. 
One foot he center'd, and the other tnrn'd 
Round thro' the vaft profundity obfcnre ; 
And faid, thus far extend, thus far thy bounds; 
This be thy juft circumference, O world. 

When we contemplate the world of Epicu- 
rus, and conceive the univerfe to be a fortuitous 

K k 4 jumble 

5 20 ESSAY VIII. [CHAP. 3, 

jumble of atoms, there is nothing grand in this 
idea. The claming of atoms by blind chance 
has nothing in it fit to raiie our conceptions, or 
to elevate the mind. But the regular Itruclure 
of avail fyftem of beings, produced by creating 
power, and governed by the bell laws which 
perfect wifdom and goodnefs could contrive, is 
a fpectacle which elevates the underftanding, 
and fills the foul with devout admiration. 

A great work is a work of great power, great 
wifdom, and great goodnefs, well contrived for 
tome important end. But power, wifdom, and 
goodnefs, are properly the attributes of mind 
only : They are afcribed to the work figurative- 
ly, but are really inherent in the author : And, 
■by the fame figure, the grandeur is afcribed to 
the work, but is properly inherent m the mind 
that made it. 

Some figures of fpeech are fo natural and fq 
common in all languages, that we are led to 
think them literal and proper exprerTions. Thus 
an adion is called brave, virtuous, generous 5 
but it is evident, that valour, virtue, generofitv, 
are the attributes of penbns only, and not of 
adions. In the action conlidered abitractly, 
there is neither valour, nor virtue, nor genero- 
fitv. The fame action done from a different 
motiye may deferve none of thofe epithets. The 
change in this cafe is not m the action, but m 
the agent ,; yet, in all languages, generofitv and 



other moral qualities are afcribed to actions. By 
a figure, we affign to the effect a quality which 
is inherent only in the caufe. 

By the fame figure, we afcribe to a work that 
grandeur which properly is inherent in^the mind 
of the author. 

When we confider the Iliad as the work of 
the poet, its fublimity was really in the mind of 
Homer. He conceived great characters, great 
actions, and great events, in a maimer fuitable to 
their nature, and with thofe emotions which they 
are naturally fitted to produce ; and he conveys 
his conceptions and his emotions by the moil 
proper figns. The grandeur of his thoughts is 
reflected to our eye by his work, and therefore it 
is juftly called a grand work. 

When we confider the things prefented to our 
mind in the Iliad, without regard to the poet, 
the grandeur is properly in Hector and Achil- 
les, and the other great perfonages, human and 
divine, brought upon the ftage. 

Next to the Deity and his works, we admire 
great talents and heroic virtue in men, whether 
reprefented in hiftory or in fiction. The virtues 
of Cato, Aristides, Socrates, Marcus Au- 
relius, are truly grand. Extraordinary talents 
and genius, whether in Poets, Orators, Philofo- 
phers, or Lawgivers, are objects of admiration, 
and therefore grand. We find writers of tafte 
feized with a kind of enthufiafm in the defcrip- 
tion of fuch perfonages. 


522 XSSAY VI«, [CHAP. 3. 

What a grand idea does Virgil give of the 
power of eloquence, when he compares the tem- 
peft of the fea, fuddenly calmed by the com- 
mand of Neptune, to a furious fedition in a 
great city, quelled at once by a man of autho- 
rity and eloquence. 

Sic ait, ac difto citius tumida aequora placat : 
Ac veluti magno in populo, fi forte coorta eft 
Seditio, fsevitque animis ignobile vulgus ; 
Jamque faces et faxa volant, furor arma miniftrat ; 
Turn pietate gravem, et mentis, fi forte virum quern 
Confpexere, filent, arrectifque auribus adftant. 
Ille regit diftis animos, et pectora mulcet. 
Sic cun&us pelagi cecidit fragor. 

The wonderful genius of Sir Isaac Newton, 
and his fagacity in difcovering the laws of Na- 
ture, is admirably exprefTed in that ihort but 
fublime epitaph by Pope : 

Nature and Nature's laws lay hid in night ; 
God faid, Let Newton be, and all was light. 

Hitherto we have found grandeur only in quali- 
ties of mind ; but it may be afked, Is there no 
real grandeur in material objects ? 

It will perhaps appear extravagant to deny 
that there is ; yet it deferves to be conlidered, 
whether all the grandeur we afcribe to objects of 
fenfe be not derived from fomething intellectual, 
of which they are the effects or figns, or to which 
they bear fome relation or analogy. 

Befides the relations of effect and caufe, of 
fign and thing iignified, there are innumerable 



fimilitudes and analogies between things of very 
different nature, which lead us to connect them 
in our imagination, and to afcribe to the one what 
properly belongs to the other. 

Every metaphor in language is an inftance of 
this ; and it mull be remembered, that a very 
great part of language, which we now account 
proper, was originally metaphorical ; for the 
metaphorical meaning becomes the proper as 
foon as it becomes the moil ufual ; much more, 
when that which was at firil the proper meaning 
falls into difufe. 

The poverty of language, no doubt, contri- 
butes in part to the ufe of metaphor ; and there- 
fore we find the moil barren and uncultivated lan- 
guages the moll metaphorical. But the mod co- 
pious language may be called barren, compared 
with the fertility of human conceptions, and can 
never, without the ufe of figures, keep pace with 
the' variety of their delicate modifications. 

But another caufe of the ufe of metaphor is, 
that we find pleafure in difcovering relations, fi- 
militudes analogies, and even contrails that are 
not obvious to every eye. All figurative fpeech 
prefents :bmething of this kind ; and the beau- 
ty of poetical language feems to be derived in a 
great meafure from this fource. 

Of all figurative language, that is the moil com- 
mon, the moll natural, and the molt agreeable, 
which either gives a body, if we may fo fpeak, 


524 ESSAY VIII. [CHAP. 3. 

to things intellectual, and clothes them with vi- 
fible qualities ; or which, on the other hand, 
gives intellectual qualities to the objects of fenfe. 

To beings of more exalted faculties, intellec- 
tual objects may perhaps appear to moft advan- 
tage in their naked fimplicity. But we can hard- 
ly conceive them but by means of fome analogy 
they bear to the objects of fenfe. The names we 
give them are almoft all metaphorical or analogi- 

Thus the names of grand and fublime, as well 
as their oppofites, mean and low, are evidently 
borrowed from the dimenfions of body ; yet it 
mull be acknowledged, that many things are 
truly grand and iubiime, to which we cannot 
afcribe the dimenfions of height and extenfion. 

Some analogy there is, without doubt, between 
greatnefs of dimenfion, which is an objed of ex- 
ternal fenfe, and that grandeur, which is an ob- 
jed of tafte. On account of this analogy, the 
laft borrows its name from the firft ; and the 
name being common, leads us to conceive that 
there is fomething common in the nature of. the 


But we iriall find many qualities of mind, de- 
noted by names taken from fome quality of bo- 
dy to which they have fome analogy, without 
any thing common in their nature. 

S weetnefs and aufterity, fimplicity and duplicity, 
rectitude and crookednefs, are names common to 



certain qualities of mind, and to qualities of bo- 
dy to which they have force analogy ; yet he 
would err greatly who afcribed to a body that 
fweetnefs or that fimplicity which are the quali- 
ties of mind. In like manner, greatnefs and 
meannefs are names common to qualities percei- 
ved by the external fenfe, and to qualities per- 
ceived by taile ; yet he may be in an error, who 
afcribes to the objects of fenfe that greatnefs or 
that meannefs, which is only an object of tafte. 

As intellectual objects are made more level to 
our appreheniion by giving them a vifible form ; 
fo the objects of fenfe are dignified and made more 
auguft, by afcribing to them intellectual quali- 
ties which have fome analogy to thofe they real- 
ly polfefs. The fea rages, the iky lowrs, the 
meadows fmile, the rivulets murmur, the breezes 
whifper, the foil is grateful or ungrateful ; fuch 
expreffions are fo familiar in common language, 
that they are fcarcely accounted poetical or figu- 
rative ; but they give a kind of dignity to inani- 
mate objects, and make our conception of them 
•more agreeable. 

When we confider matter as an inert, extend- 
ed, divifible and moveable fubftance, there feems 
to be nothing in thefe qualities which we can 
call grand ; and when we afcribe grandeur to 
any portion of matter, however modified, may 
it not borrow this quality from fomething intel- 

526 ESSAY VIII. [CHAP. 3, 

lectual, of which it is the effect, or fign, or in- 
ftrument r or to which it bears fome analogy ; or, 
perhaps, becaufe it produces in the mind an emo- 
tion that has fome refemblance to that admira- 
tion which truly grand objects raife ? 

A very elegant writer on the fublime and beau- 
tiful, makes every thing grand or fublime that is 
terrible. Might he not be led to this by the fimi- 
larity between dread and admiration? Both are 
grave and folemn paffions ; both make a ftrong 
imprefiion. upon the mind ; and both are very 
infectious. But they differ fpecifically, in this 
refpect, that admiration fuppofes fome uncom- 
mon excellence in its object, which dread does 
not. We may admire what we fee no reafon to 
dread ; and we may dread what we do not ad- 
mire. In dread, there is nothing of that enthu- 
iiafm which naturally accompanies admiration, 
and is a chief ingredient of the emotion raifed by 
what is truly grand or fublime. 

Upon the whole, I humbly apprehend, that 
true grandeur is fuch a degree of excellence as is 
fit to raife an enthufiaftical admiration ; that this 
grandeur is found originally and properly in qua- 
lities of mind ; that it is difcerned in objects 
of fenfe only by reflection, as the light we per- 
ceive in the moon and planets is truly the light 
.of the fun ; and that thofe who look for gran- 
deur in mere matter, feek the living among the 



If this be a miftake,, it ought at leaft to be 
granted, that the grandeur which we perceive in 
qualities of mind, ought to have a different name 
from that which belongs properly to the objects 
of fenfe, as they are very different in their na- 
ture, and produce very different emotions in the 
mind of the fpeclator. 


Of Beauty. 

BEAUTY is found in things fo various, and 
fo very different in nature, that it is diffi- 
cult to fay wherein it confifls, or what there can 
be common to all the objecls in which it is 

Of the objeds of fenfe, we find beauty in co- 
lour, in found, in form, in motion. There are 
beauties of fpeech, and beauties of thought; 
beauties in the arts, and in the fciences ; beauties 
in adions, in affe&ions, and in characters. 

In things fo different, and fo unlike, is their 
any quality, the fame in all, which we may call 
by the name of beauty ? What can it be that is 
common to the thought of a mind, and the form 
of a piece of matter, to an abftracl thcorm, and a 
ftroke of wit ? 

5^8 ESSAY VIII. [CHAP. 4. 

I am indeed unable to conceive any quality 
in all the different things that are called beauti- 
ful, that is the fame in them all. There feems to 
be no identity, nor even fimilarity, between the 
beauty of a theorm and the beauty of a piece of 
mufic, though both may be beautiful. The 
kinds of beauty feem to be as various as the ob- 
jects to which it is afcribed. 

But why mould things fo different be called 
by the fame name ? This cannot be without a 
reafon. If there be nothing common in the things 
themfelves, they muft have fome common relation 
to us, or to fomething elfe, which leads us to give 
them the fame name. 

All the objects we call beautiful agree in two 
things, which feem to concur in our fenfe of 
beauty. Firjl, When they are perceived, or even 
imagined, they produce a certain agreeable 
emotion or feeling in the mind ; and fecondly, 
This agreeable emotion is accompanied with an 
opinion or belief of their having fome perfection, 
or excellence belonging to them. 

Whether the pleafure we feel in contemplat- 
ing beautiful objects may have any necefTary 
connection with the belief of their excellence, 
or whether that pleafure be conjoined with this 
belief, by the good pleafure only of our Maker, 
I will not determine. The reader may fee Dx 
Price's, fentiments upon this fubject, which me- 



rit confideration, in the fecond chapter of his re- 
view of the Queftions concerning Morals. 

Though we may be able to conceive thefe two 
ingredients of our fenfe of beauty disjoined, this 
affords no evidence that they have no neceffary 
connection. It has indeed been maintained, 
that whatever we can conceive, is poffible : But 
I endeavoured, in treating of conception, to fhow, 
that this opinion, though very common, is a 
miftake. There may be, and probably are, 
many neceffary connections of things in nature, 
which we are too dimfighted to difcover. 

The emotion produced by beautiful objects 
is gay and pleafant. It fweetens and humanifes 
the temper, is friendly to every benevolent affec- 
tion, and tends to allay fullen and angry paffions e 
It enlivens the mind, and difpofes it to other 
agreeable emotions, fuch as thofe of love, hope, 
and joy. It gives a value to the object, abftra di- 
ed from its utility. 

In things that may be poffeffed as property, 
beauty greatly enhances the price. A beautiful 
dog or horfe, a beautiful coach or houfe, a 
beautiful picture or profpect, is valued by its 
owner and by others, not only for its utility, but 
for its beauty. 

If the beautiful objecl: be a perfon, his com- 
pany and converfation are, on that account, the 
more agreeable, and we are difpofed to love and 
cfteem him. Even in a perfect ftranger, it is a 

Vol , II, L 1 powerful 

53^ ESSAY viii. [chap. 4. 

powerful recommendation, and difpofes us to 
favour and think well of him, if of our own fex, 
and ftill more if of the other. 

" There is nothing," fays Mr Addison, "that 
u makes its way more directly to the foul than 
" beauty, which immediately diffufes a fecret 
" fatisfaction and complacence through the ima- 
" gination, and gives a finifhing to any thing 
u that is great and uncommon. The very firft. 
** difcovery of it ftrikes the mind with an inward 
" joy, and fpreads a cheerfulnefs and delight 
" through all its faculties." 

As we afcribe beauty, not only to perfons, but 
to inanimate things, we give the name of love or 
liking to the emotion, which beauty, in both 
thefe kinds of objects; produces. It is evident, 
however, that liking to a perfon is a very diffe- 
rent affection of mind from liking to an inani- 
mate thing. The firft always implies benevo- 
lence ; but what is inanimate cannot be the ob- 
ject of benevolence. The two affections, how- 
ever different, have a refemblance in fome re- 
fpects ; and, on account of that refemblance^ 
have the fame name : And perhaps beauty, io 
thefe two different kinds of objects, though it 
has one name, may be as different in its nature 
as the emotions which it produces in us. 

Beiides the agreeable emotion which beautiful 
objects produce in the mind of the fpectator, they 
produce alfo an opinion or judgment-of fome per- 



fec~tion or excellence in the object. This I take 
to be a fecond ingredient in our fenfe of beauty, 
though it feems not to be admitted by modern 

The ingenious Dr Hutcheson, who perceiv- 
ed fome of the defeds of Mr Locke's fyftem, 
and made very important improvements upon it, 
feems to have been carried away by it, in his no- 
tion of beauty. In his Inquiry concerning Beauty, 
; Sea. 1. " Let it be obferved," fays he, "that, in 
" the following papers, the word beauty is taken 
" for the idea raifed in us, and the fenfe of beau- 
" ty, for our power of receiving that idea." And 
again ; " Only let it be obferved, that, by abfo- 
' lute or original beauty, is not underftood any 
" quality fuppofed to be in the objecl: which 
" mould, of itfelf, be beautiful, without rela- 
" tion to any mind which perceives it : For 
" beauty, like other names of fenfible ideas, pro- 
" perly denotes the perception of fome mind ; 
r fo cold, hot, fweet, bitter, denote the fenfa- 
1 tions in our minds, to which perhaps there is 
' no refemblance in the objects which excite 
1 thefe ideas in us ; however, we generally ima- 
P gine otherwife. Were there no mind, with a 
' fenfe of beauty, to contemplate objects, I fee 
" not how they could be called beautiful." 

There is no doubt an analogy between the ex- 
ternal fenfes of touch and tafte, and the internal 
fenfe of beauty. This analogy led Dr Hutche- 
L 1 1 son. 


son, and other modern Philofophers, to apply 
to beauty, what Des Caktes and Locke had 
taught concerning the fecondary qualities, per- 
ceived by the external fenfes. 

Mr Locke's doctrine concerning the feconda- 
ry qualities of body, is not fo much an error in 
judgment as an abufe of words. He diftinguifh- 
ed very properly between the fenfations we have 
of heat and cold, and that quality or ftrudture in 
the body which is adapted by Nature to pro- 
duce thofe fenfations in us. He obferved very 
juftly, that there can be no fimilitude between 
one of theie and the other. They have the rela- 
tion of an effect to its caufe, but no fimilitude. 
This was a veryjuft and proper correction of the 
doctrine of the Peripatetics, who taught, that all 
our fenfations are the very form and image of 
the quality in the object by which they are pro- 

What remained to be determined was, whe- 
ther the words, heat and cold, in common lan- 
guage, iignify the fenfations we feel, or the qua- 
lities of the object which are the caufe of thefe 
fenfations. Mr Locke made heat and cold to* 
iignify only the fenfations we feel, and not the 
qualities which are the caufe of them. And in 
this, I apprehend, lay his miftake. For it is 
evident, from the ufe of language, that hot and 
eold, fweet and bitter, are attributes of external 
objects, and not of the perfon who perceives 



tliera. Hence, it appears a monftrous paradox 
to fay, there is no heat in the fire, no fweetnefs 
in fugar : But, when explained according to Mr 
Locke's meaning, it is only, like moll other pa- 
radoxes, an abufe of words. 

The fenfe of beauty may be analyfed in a 
manner very fimilar to the fenfe of fweetnefs." It 
is an agreeable feeling or emotion, accompanied 
with an opinion or judgment of fome excellence 
in the object, which is fitted by Nature to pro- 
duce that feeling. 

The feeling is, no doubt, in the mind, and fo 
alfo is the judgment w-e form of the object : But 
this judgment, like all others, muft be true or 
falfe. If it be a true judgment, there is fome 
real excellence in the object. And the ufe of all 
languages mows, that the name of beauty be- 
longs to this excellence of the object, and not to 
-the feelings of the fpectator. 

To fay that there is in reality no beauty in 
thofe objects in which all men perceive beauty, 
is to attribute to man fallacious fenfes. But we 
have no ground to think fo difrefpectfully of the 
Author of our being ; the faculties he hath gi- 
ven us are not fallacious ; nor is that beauty, 
which he hath fo liberally diffufed over all the 
works of his hands, a mere fancy in us, but a 
•real excellence in his works, which exprefs the 
•perfection of their Divine Author. 

L 1 3 We 

534 ESSAY VIII, [chap. 4. 

We have reafon to believe, not only that the 
beauties we fee in nature are real, and not fan- 
ciful, but that there are thoufands which our 
faculties are too dull to perceive. We fee ma- 
ny beauties, both of human and divine art, 
which the brute animals are incapable of per- 
ceiving j and fuperior beings may excel us as 
far in their difcernment of true beauty as w T e ex- 
cel the brutes. 

The man who is fkilled in painting or flatua- 
ry, fees more of the beauty of a fine picture or 
itatue than a common fpectator. The fame 
thing holds in all the fine arts. The moil per- 
fect w T orks of art have a beauty that ftrikes even 
the rude and ignorant ; but they fee only a fmall 
part of that beauty which is feen in fuch works 
by thofe who underftand them perfectly, and can i 
produce them. 

This may be applied with no lefs juftice 
to the works of Nature. They have a beauty 
that ftrikes even the ignorant and inattentive. 
But the more we difcover of their flructure, of 
their mutual relations, and of the laws by which 
they are governed, the greater beauty, and the 
more delightful marks of art, wifdom and good- 
nefs, we difcern. 

Thus the expert Anatomift fees numberlefs 
beautiful contrivances in the flructure of the hu- 
man body, which are unknown to the ignorant. 



Although the vulgar eye fees much beauty in 
the face of the heavens, and in the various mo- 
tions and changes of the heavenly bodies, the 
expert Aftronomer, who knows their order and 
diftances, their periods, the orbits they defcrib% 
in the vaft regions of fpace, and the fimple and 
beautiful laws by which their motions are govern- 
ed, and all the appearances cf their ftations, pro- 
greffions, and retrogradations, their eclipfes, oc- 
cultations, and tranfits-are produced, fees a beau- 
ty, order, and harmony reign through the whole 
planetary fyilem, which delights the mind. The 
eclipfes of the fun and moon, and the blazing 
tails of comets, which ftrike terror into barba- 
rous nations, furnim the molt ng entertain- 
ment to his eye, and a feaft to his underftanding. 

In every part of Nature's works, there are 
numberlefs beauties, which, on account of our 
ignorance, we are unable to perceive. Superior 
beings may fee more than we ; but he only who 
made them, and, upon a review, pronounced 
them all to be very good, can fee all their beauty. 

Our determinations with regard to the beauty 
of objects, may, I think, be diftinguifhed into 
two kinds ; the fir ft we may call inilinctive, the 
other rational. 

Some objects ftrike us at once, and appear 

beautiful at firft light, without any reflection, 

without our being able to fay why we call them 

•beautiful, or being able to fpecify any perfection 

LI 4 which 

53^ ESSAY VIII. [chap. 4. 

which juftifies our judgment. Something of this 
kind there feems to be in brute animals, and in 
children before the ufe of reafon ; nor does it 
end with -infancy, but continues through life. 

In the plumage of birds, and of butterflies, 
in the colours and form of flowers, of fhells, and 
of man) 7 other objects, we perceive a beauty 
that delights ; but cannot fay what it is in the 
object that mould produce that emotion. 

The beauty of the object may in fuch cafes 
be called an occult quality. We know well how 
it affects our fenfes ; but what it is in itfelf we 
know not. But this, as well as other occult 
qualities, is a proper fubject of philosophical dif- 
quifition ; and, by a careful examination of the 
objects to which Nature hath given this amiable 
quality, we may perhaps difcover fome real ex- 
cellence in the object, or at leaft, fome valuable 
purpofe that is ferved by the effect which it pro- 
duces upon us. 

This inftinctive fenfe of beauty, in different 
fpecies of animals, may differ as much as the 
external fenfe of tafte, and in each fpecies be 
adapted to its manner of life. By this perhaps 
the various tribes are led to affociate with their 
kind, to dwell among certain objects rather than 
others, and to conftmct their habitation in a 
particular manner. 

There feem likewife to be varieties in the fenfe 
pf beauty in the individuals of the fame fpecies,. 


by which they are directed in the choice of a 
mate, and in the love and care of their offspring. 
" We fee," fays Mr Addison, w that every 
" different fpecies of fenfible creaturejs has its 
" different notions of beauty, and that each of 
" them is moft affected with the beauties of its 
" own kind. This is no where more remark- 
" able than in birds of the fame fhape and pro- 
" portion, where we often fee the mate deter- 
" mined in his courtfhip by the iingle grain or 
" tincture of a feather, and never difcovering any 
*' charms but in the colour of its own fpecies." 

*' Scit thalamo fervare fidem, fandtafque veretur 

" Connubii leges ; non ilium in pectore candor 

" Sollicitat niveus ; neque pravum accendit amorem 

" Splendida lanugo, vel honefta in vertice crifta •, 

" Purpureufve nitor pennarurn ; aft agmina late 

*' Foeminea explorat cautus, maculafque requirit 

" Cognatas, paribufque interlita corpora guttis : 

" Ni faceret, pidtis fylvam circum undique monftris 

" Confufam afpiceres vulgo, partufque biformes, 

" Et genus ambiguum, et veneris rnonumenta nefandae. 

" Hinc merula in nigro fe obledlat nigra marito ; 
" Hinc focium lafciva petit pbilomela canorum, 
t' Agnofcitque pares fonitus ; hinc noflua tetram 
" Canitiem alarum, et glaucos miratur ocellos. 
i: Nempe fibi femper conftat, crefcitque quotannis 
" Lucida progenies, caftos confeffa parentes : 
" Vere novo exultat, plumafque decora juventus 
" Explicat ad folem, patriifque coloribus ardet." 

In the human kind there are varieties in 
the tafte of beauty, of which we can no more 


53S ESSAY VIII. [chap. 4* 

affign a reafon than of the variety of their fea- 
tures, though it is eafy to perceive that very im- 
portant ends are anfwered by both. Thefe va- 
rieties are mod obfervable in the judgments we 
form of the features of the other fex ; and in 
this the intention of Nature is moft apparent. 

As far as our determinations of the compa- 
rative beauty of objects are inftinctive, they are 
no fubjecl of reafoning or of criticifm ; they are 
purely the gift of Nature, and we have no Hand- 
ard by which they may be meafured. 

But there are judgments of beauty that may 
be called rational, being grounded on fome 
agreeable quality of the object: which is diftinft- 
ly conceived, and may be fpecified. 

This diftinction between a rational judgment 
of beauty and that which is inftinclive, may be 
illuftrated by an inftance. 

In a heap of pebbles, one that is remarkable 
for brilliancy of colour and regularity of figure, 
will be picked out of the heap by a child. He 
perceives a beauty in it, puts a value upon it, 
and is fond of the property of it. For this pre- 
ference, no reafon can be given, but that chil- 
dren are, by their conftitution, fond of brilliant 
colours, and of regular figures. 

Suppofe again that an expert mechanic views 
a well conftrucled machine. He fees all its parts 
to be made of the fitteft materials, and of the 
moll proper form ; nothing fuperfluous, nothing 

deficient : 


deficient ; every part adapted to its life, and the 
whole fitted in the moft perfect manner to the 
end for which it is intended. He pronounces 
it to be a beautiful machine. He views it with 
the fame agreeable emotion as the child viewed 
the pebble ; but he can give a reafon for his 
judgment, and point out the particular perfec- 
tions of the object on which it is grounded. 

Although the inftinctive and the rational fenfe 
of beauty may be perfectly diftinguifhed in fpe- 
culation, yet, in palling judgment upon particu- 
lar objects, they are often fo mixed and con- 
founded, that it is difficult to affign to each its 
own province. Nay, it may often happen, that 
a judgment of the beauty of an objecl, which 
was at firft merely inft.inct.ivc, mail afterwards 
become rational, when we difcover fome latent 
perfection of which that beauty in the objecl is 
a iign. 

As the fenfe of beauty may be diftinguifhed 
into inftinctive and rational ; fo I think beauty 
itfelf may be diftinguifned into original and de- 

As fome objects mine by their own light, and 
many more by light that is borrowed and re- 
flected ; fo I conceive the luftre of -beauty in 
fome objects is inherent and original, and in many 
others is borrowed and reflected. 

There is nothing more common in the fenti- 
ments of all mankind, and in the language of 


54° ESSAY VIII. [chap. 4. 

all nations, than what may be called a commu- 
nication of attributes ; that is, transferring an 
attribute, from the fubjed to which it properly 
belongs, to fome related or refembling fubjecl:. 

The various objects which Nature prefents to 
jour view, even thofe that are mod different in 
land, have innumerable iimilitudes, relations, 
and analogies, which we contemplate with plea- 
fure, and which lead us naturally to borrow 
words and attributes from one object to exprels 
what belongs to another. The greater! part of 
every language under heaven is made up of 
words borrowed from one thing, and applied to 
fomething fuppofed to have fome relation or ana- 
logy to their firit lignification. %. 

The attributes of body we afcribe to mind, 
and the attributes of mind to material objects. 
To inanimate things we afcribe life, and even 
intellectual and moral qualities. And although 
the qualities that are thus made common belong 
to one of the fubjects in the proper fenfe, and to 
the other metaphorically, thefe different fenfes 
are often fo mixed in our imagination, as to pro- 
duce the fame fentiment with regard to both. 

It is therefore natural, and agreeable to the 
lirain of human fentiments and of human lan- 
guage, that in many cafes the beauty which ori- 
ginally and properly is in the thing fignified, 
fhould be transferred to the fign ; that which is 
in the cauie, to the effect j that which is in the 



end, to the means ; and that which is in the 
agent, to the inftrument. 

If what was faid in the laft chapter of the dif~ 
tinction between the grandeur which we afcribe 
to qualities of mind, and that which we afcribe 
to material objects, be well founded, this di- 
ftinction of the beauty of objects will ealily be 
admitted as perfectly analogous to it. I (hall 
therefore only illuftrate it by an example. 

There is nothing in the exterior of a man 
more lovely and more attractive than perfect 
good breeding. But what is this good breeding ? 
It coniifts of all the external iigns of due re- 
fpect to our fuperiors, condefcenlion to our in- 
feriors, politenefs to all with whom we converfe 
or have to do, joined in the fair fex with that 
delicacy of outward behaviour which becomes 
them. And how comes it to have fuch charms 
in the eyes of all mankind ? For this reafon only,, 
as I apprehend, that it is a natural fign of that 
temper, and thofe affections and fentiments with re- 
gard to others, and with regard to ourfelves, which 
are in themfelves truly amiable and beautiful. 

This is the original, of which good breeding 
is the picture ; and it is the beauty of the ori- 
ginal that is reflected to our fenfe by the picture. 
The beauty of good breeding, therefore, is not 
originally in the external behaviour in which it 
coniifts, but is derived from the qualities of mind 
which it exprefles. And though there may be 


54 2 ESSAY VIII.. [chap. 4, 

good breeding without the amiable qualities of 
mind, its beauty is Hill derived from what it na- 
turally expreiTes. 

Having explained thefe diitinctions of our 
fenfe of beauty into inftinctive and rational, and 
of beauty itielf into original and derived, I 
would now proceed to give a general view of 
thoie qualities in objects, to which we may juft- 
ly and rationally afcribe beauty, whether original 
or derived. 

But here fome embarr aliment arifes from the 
vague meaning of the word beauty, which I had 
occafion before to obierve. 

Sometimes it is extended, fo as to include eve- 
ry thing that pleafes a good tafte, and fo compre- 
hends grandeur and novelty, as well as what in 
a more reitricted fenfe is called beauty. At 
other times, it is even by good writers confined 
to the objects of fight, when they are either feen, 
or remembered, or imagined. Yet it is admit- 
ted by all men, that there are beauties in mufic ; 
that there is beauty as well as fublimity in com- 
poiition, both in verfe and in profe ; that there 
is beauty in characters, in affections, and in ac- 
tions. Thefe are not objects of fight; and a 
man may be a good judge of beauty of various 
kinds, who has not the faculty of fight. 

To give a determinate meaning to a word fo 
variouily extended and reitricted, I know no bet- 
ter way than what is fuggefted by the common 



divifion of the objects of tafte into novelty, gran- 
deur, and beauty. Novelty, it is plain, is no 
quality of the new object, but merely a relation 
which it has to the knowledge of the perfon to 
whom it is new. Therefore, if this general di- 
vifion be juft, every quality in an object that 
pleafes a good tafte, muft, in one degree or an- 
other, have either grandeur or beauty. It may 
Hill be difficult to fix the precife limit betwixt 
grandeur and beauty ; but they mult together 
comprehend every thing fitted by its nature to 
pleafe a good tafte, that is, every real perfection 
and excellence in the objects we contemplate. 

In a poem, in a picture, in a piece of mufic, 
it is real excellence that pleafes a good tafte. 
In a perfon, every perfection of the mind, mora! 
or intellectual, and every perfection of the body, 
gives pleafure to the fpectator as well as to the 
owner, when there is no envy nor malignity to 
deftroy that pleafure. 

It is therefore in the fcale of perfection and 
real excellence that we muft look for what is ei- 
ther grand or beautiful in objects. What is the 
proper object of admiration is grand, and what is 
the proper object of love and efteem is beautiful. 

This, I think, is the only notion of beauty that 
correfponds with the divifion of the objects of 
tafte which has been generally received by Phi- 
lofophers. And this connection of beauty, with 
real perfection, was a capital doctrine of the 


544 ESSAY VIII. [chap. 4, 

Socratic fchool. It is often afcribed to Socrates 
in the dialogues of Plato and of Xenophon.' 

We may therefore take a view, firft, of thofe 
qualites of mind to which we may juftly and 
rationally afcribe beauty, and then of the beauty 
we perceive in the objects of fenfe. We mail 
find, if I miftake not, that, in the firft, original 
beauty is to be found, and that the beauties of 
the fecond clafs are derived from fome relation 
they bear to mind, as the figns or expreffions of 
fome amiable mental quality, or as the effects of 
defign, art, and wife contrivance. 

As grandeur naturally produces admiration, 
beauty naturally produces love. We may there- 
fore juftly afcribe beauty to thofe qualities which 
are the natural objects of love and kind affection. 

Of this kind chiefly are fome of the moral 
virtues, which in a peculiar manner conftitute 
a. lovely character. Innocence, gentlenefs, con- 
defcenlion, humanity, natural affection, public 
fpirit, and the whole train of the foft and gentle 
virtues. Thefe qualities are amiable from their 
very nature, and on account of their intrinfic 

There are other virtues that raife admiration, 
and are therefore grand ; fuch as magnanimity, 
fortitude, felf-command, fuperiority to pain and 
labour, fuperiority to plcafure, and to the fmiles 
of fortune as well as to her frowns. 

Thefe awful virtues conftitute what is moil 
grand in the human character 5 the gentle vir- 


tues, what is mofl beautiful and lovely. As 
they are virtues, they draw the approbation of 
our moral faculty ; as they are becoming and 
amiable, they affect our fenfe of beauty. 

Next to the amiable moral virtues, there are 
many intellectual talents which have an intrinfic 
value, and draw our love and eileem to thofe 
who poffefs them. Such are, knowledge, good 
fenfe, wit, humour, cheerfulnefs, good tafte, ex- 
cellence in any of the fine arts, in eloquence, in 
dramatic action ; and we may add, excellence in 
every art of peace or war that is ufeful in fbciety. 

There are likewife talents which we refer to 
the body, which have an original beauty and 
comelinefs ; fuch as health, ftrength, and agility, 
the ufual attendants of youth ; lkili in bodily 
exercifes, and lkili in the mechanic arts. Thefe 
are real perfections of the man, as they increafe 
his power, and render the body a fit inftrument 
for the mind. 

I apprehend, therefore, that it is in the moral 
and intellectual perfections of mind, and in its 
active powers, that beauty originally dwells ; and 
that from this as the' fountain, all the beauty 
which we perceive in the viiible world is derived. 

This, I think, was the opinion of the ancient 
Philofophers before named \ and it has been 
adopted by Lord Shaftesbury and Dr Aken- 
side among the moderns. 

Vol. II. M m " Mind, 

54^ essay vi ii. [chap. 4C 

" Mind, mind alone ! bear witnefs earth and heav'n, 

" The living fountains in itfelf contains 

" Of beauteous and fublime. Here hand in hand 

" Sit paramount the graces. Here enthron'd, 

" Cel*ftial Venus, with divineft airs, . 

" Invites the foul to never-fading joy." Akenside. 

But neither mind, nor any of its qualities or 
powers, is an immediate object of perception to 
man. We are, indeed, immediately confcious of 
the operations of our own mind ; and every de- 
gree of perfection in them gives the pureft plea- 
fure, with a proportional degree of felf-efteem, 
fo flattering to felf-love, that the great difficulty 
is to keep it within juft bounds, fo that we may 
not think of ourfelves above what we ought to 

Other minds we perceive only through the 
medium of material objects, on which there fig- 
natures are impreffed. It is through this me- 
dium that we perceive life, activity, wifdom, and 
every moral and intellectual quality in other be- 
ings. The figns of thafe qualities are imme- 
diately perceived by the fenfes ; by them the 
qualities themfelves are -reflected to our under- 
ftanding ; and we are very apt to attribute to the 
figri the beauty or the grandeur, which is pro- 
perly and originally in the things fignified. 

The inviiible Creator, the Fountain of all per- 
fection, hath ftamped upon all his works figna- 
tures of his divine wifdom, power, and benigni- 
ty, which are vifible to all men, The works of 



men in fcience, in the arts of tafte, and in the 
mechanical arts, bear the Signatures of thofe 
qualities of mind which were employed in their 
production. Their external behaviour and con- 
duct in life expreifes the good or bad qualities 
of their mind. 

In every Species of animals, we perceive by vi- 
lible figns their inftincts, their appetites, their af- 
fections, their fagacity. Even in the inanimate 
world there are many things analogous to the 
qualities of mind ; fo that there is hardly any 
thing belonging to mind which may not be re- 
prefented by images taken from the objects of 
fenfe ; and, on the other hand, every object of 
fenfe is beautified, by borrowing attire from the 
attributes of mind. 

Thus the beauties of mind, though invifible in 
themfelves, are perceived in the objects of fenfe, 
on which their image is impreiTed. 

If we conlider, on the other hand, the quali- 
ties in fenfible objects to which we afcribe beau- 
ty, I apprehend we mall find in all of them ibme 
relation to mind, and the greater! in thofe that 
are moil beautiful. 

When we confider inanimate matter abstractly, 
as a fubitance endowed with the qualities of ex- 
tension, folidity, divisibility, and mobility, there 
feems to be nothing in thefe qualities that affects 
our fcrife of beauty. But when we contemplate 
the globe which we inhabit, as fitted by its form, 
M m 2 by 

548 ESSAY VHI. [CHAP. 4. 

by its motions, and by its furniture, for the ha- 
bitation and fupport of an infinity of various or- 
ders of living creatures, from the lowefl reptile 
up to man, we have a glorious fpe&acle indeed ! 
with which the grander! and the moil beautiful 
Itructures of human art can bear no comparifon. 

The only perfection of dead matter is its being, 
by its various forms and qualities, fo admirably 
fitted for the purpofes of animal life, and chiefly 
that of man. It furnifhes the materials of every 
art that tends to the fupport or the embellifh- 
ment of human life. By the Supreme Artift, it 
is organized in the various tribes of the vegetable 
kingdom, and endowed with a kind of life ; a 
work which human art cannot imitate, nor hu- 
man underftanding comprehend. 

In the bodies and various organs of the animal 
tribes, there is a compofition of matter ftill more 
wonderful and more myfterious, though we fee 
it to be admirably adapted to the purpofes and 
manner of life of every fpecies. But in every 
form, unorganized, vegetable, or animal, it derives 
its beauty from the purpofes to which it is fub- 
fervient, or from the figns of wifdom, or of other 
mental qualities which it exhibits. 

The qualities of inanimate matter, in which we 
perceive beauty, are, found, colour, form, and 
motion ; the firft an objecl of hearing, the other 
three of fight ; which we may confider in order. 

In a fingle note, founded by a very fine voice, 
there is a beauty which we do not perceive in the 



fame note, founded by a bad voice, or an im- 
perfect instrument. I need not attempt to enu- 
merate the perfections in a fingle note, which 
give beauty to it. Some of them have names in 
the fcience of mufic, and there perhaps are others 
which have no names. But I think it will be al- 
lowed, that every quality which gives beauty to 
a fingle note, is a lign of fome perfection, either 
in the organ, whether it be the human voice or 
an inltrument, or in the execution. The beauty 
of the found is both the fign and the effect of 
this perfection ; and the perfection of the caufe 
is the only reafon we can aflign for the beauty 
of the effect. 

In a compofition of founds, or a piece of mufic, 
the beauty is either in the harmony, the melody, 
or the expreffion. The beauty of expreffion 
muft be derived, either from the beauty of the 
thing expreffed, or from the art and ikill em- 
ployed in expreffing it properly. 

In harmony, the very names of concord and 
difcord are metaphorical, and fuppofe fome ana- 
logy between the relations of found, to which 
they are figuratively applied, and the relations of 
minds and affections, which they originally and 
properly fignify. 

As far as I can judge by my ear, when two or 

more perfons of a good voice and ear, converfe 

together in amity and friendship, the tones of 

their different voices are concordant, but become 

M m 3 difcordant 

550 ESSAY VIII. [chap. 4. 

difcordant when they give vent to angry paffions ; 
fo that, without hearing what is faid, one may 
know by the tones of the different voices, whe- 
ther they quarrel or converfe amicably. This, 
indeed, is not fo eafily perceived in thofe who 
have been taught, by good-breeding, to fupprefs 
angry tones of voice, even when they are angry, 
as in the loweft rank, who exprefs their angry 
paffions without any reftraint. 

When difcord arifes occafionally in converfa- 
tion, but foon terminates in perfect amity, we re- 
ceive more pleafure than from perfect unanimity. 
in like manner, in the harmony of mufic, diicor- 
dant founds are occafionally introduced, but it is 
always in order to give a reliih to the moft per- 
fect concord that follows. 

Whether thefe analogies, between the harmo- 
ny of a piece of mufic, and harmony in the inter- 
courfe of minds, be merely fanciful, or have any 
real foundation in facl, I fubmit to thofe who 
have a nicer ear, and have applied it to obferva- 
tions of this kind. If they have any juft founda- 
tion, as they feera to me to have, they ferve to 
account for the metaphorical application of the 
names of concord and difcord to the relations of 
founds ; to account for the pleafure we have 
from harmony in mufic ; and to fliow, that the 
beauty of harmony is derived from the relation 
it has to agreeable affections of mind. 

With regard to melody, I leave it to the 
adepts in the fcience of mufic, to determine, 



whether mufic, compofed according to the efta- 
•blifhed rules of harmony and melody, can be al- 
together void of expreffion ; and whether muflc 
-that has no expreffion can have any beauty. To 
me it feems, that every {train in melody that is 
agreeable, is an imitation of the tones of the hu- 
man voice in the expreffion of fome fentiment or 
paffion, or an imitation of fome other object in 
nature; and that mufic, as well as poetry, is an 
imitative art. 

The fenfe of beauty in the colours, and in the 
motions of inanimate objects, is, I believe, in fome 
cafes inftinctive. We fee, that children and fa- 
vages are pleafed with brilliant colours and 
fprightly motions. In perfons of an improved 
and rational tafte, there are many fources from 
which colours and motions may derive their beau- 
ty. They, as well as the forms of objects, ad- 
mit of regularity and variety. The motions pro- 
duced by machinery, indicate the perfection or 
imperfection of the ^mechanifm, and maybe bet- 
ter or worfe adapted to their end, and from that 
derive their beauty or deformity. 

The colours of natural objects, are commonly 
figns of fome good or bad quality in the object ; 
or they may fuggeft to the imagination fome- 
thing agreeable or difagreeable. 

In drefs and furniture, fafhion has a conlider- 
able influence on the preference we give to one 
colour above another. 

M m 4 A 

552 ESSAY VIII. [CHAP. 4. 

A number of clouds of different and ever- 
changing hue, feen on the ground of a ferene 
azure Iky at the going down of the fun, prefent 
to the eye of every man a glorious fpeclacle. It is 
hard to fay, whether we fhould call it grand or 
beautiful. It is both in a high degree. Clouds 
towering above clouds, varioully tinged, according 
as they approach nearer to the direct rays of the 
fun, enlarge our conceptions of the regions above 
us. They give us a view of the furniture of thofe 
regions, which, in an unclouded air, feem to be a 
perfect void ; , but are now feen to contain the 
ftores of wind and rain, bound up for the prefent, 
but to be poured down upon the earth in due fea- 
fon. Even the fimple ruftic does not look upon 
this beautiful Iky, merely as a ihow to pleafe the 
eye, but as a happy omen of fine weather to come. 

The proper arrangement of colour, and of 
light and made, is one of the chief beauties of 
painting ; but this beauty is greater!:, when that 
arrangement gives the molt diftinct, the molt na- 
tural, and the mod agreeable image of that which 
the painter intended to reprefent. 

If we confider, in the laft place, the beauty of 
form or figure in inanimate-objects, this, accord- 
ing to Dr Hutcheson, remits from regularity, 
mixed with variety. Here it ought to be ob- 
ferved, that regularity, in a.11 cafes, expreffes de- 
fign and art \ For nothing regular was ever the 
v/ork of chance : and where regularity is joined 



with variety, it expreffes defign more ftrongly. 
Befides, it has been juftly obferved, that regular 
figures are more ealily and more perfectly com- 
prehended by the mind than the irregular, of 
which we can never form an adequate conception. 

Although ftraight lines and plain furfaces have 
a beauty from their regularity, they admit of no 
variety, and therefore are beauties of the loweft 
order, Curve lines and furfaces admit of infinite 
variety, joined with every degree of regularity ; 
and therefore, in many cafes, excel in beauty 
thofe that are ftraight. 

But the beauty arifing from regularity and va- 
riety, mult always yield to that which ariies from 
the fitnefs of the form for the end intended. In 
every thing made for an end, the form muft be 
adapted to that end ; and every thing in the form 
that fuits the end, is a beauty ; every thing that 
unfits it for its end, is a deformity. 

The forms of a pillar, of a fword, and of a ba- 
lance, are very different. Each may have great 
beauty ; but that beauty is derived from the fit- 
nefs of the form, and of the matter for the pur- 
pofe intended. 

Were we to confider the form of the earth it- 
felf, and the various furniture it contains, of the 
inanimate kind; its diflribution into land and fea, 
mountains and valleys, rivers and fprings of wa- 
ter, the variety of foils that cover its furface, and 
of mineral and metallic fubftances laid up within 


554 ESSAY VIII. [chap. 4, 

it, the air that furrounds it, the viciflitudes of day 
and night, and of the feafons ; the beauty of all 
thefe, which indeed is fuperlative, confifts in this, 
that they bear the moft lively and ftriking im- 
preffion of the wifdom and goodnefs of their Au- 
thor, in contriving them fo admirably for the ufe 
of man, and of their other inhabitants. 

The beauties of the vegetable kingdom are far 
fuperior to thofe of inanimate matter, in any 
form which human art can give it. Hence, in 
all ages, men have been fond to adorn their 
perfons and their habitations with the vegetable 
productions of nature. 

The beauties of the field, of the foreft, and of 
the flower-garden, Alike a child long before he 
can reafbn. He is delighted with what he fees ; 
but lie knows not why. This is inftincl:, but it 
is not confined to childhood ; it continues through 
all the flages of life. It leads the Florift, the 
Botanifl, the Philofopher, to examine and com- 
pare the objects which Nature, by this powerful 
inftincl:, recommends to his attention. By de- 
grees, he becomes a Critic in beauties of this 
kind, and can give a reafon why he prefers one 
to another. In every fpecies, he fees the greateft 
beauty in the plants or flowers that are moft per- 
fect in their kind, which have neither fuffered 
from unkindly foil, nor inclement weather \ 
which have not been robbed of their nourifbment 
by other plants, nor hurt by any accident. When 



he examines the internal ftructure of thofe pro- 
ductions of Nature, and traces them from their 
embryo Hate in the feed to their maturity, he fees 
a thoufand beautiful contrivances of Nature, 
which feaft his underftanding more than their 
external form delighted his eye. 

Thus, every beauty in the vegetable creation, 
of which he has formed any rational judgment, 
exprefTes fome perfection in the object, or fome 
wife contrivance in its Author. 

In the animal kingdom, we perceive flill great- 
er beauties than in the vegetable. Here we ob- 
ferve life, and fenfe, and activity, various in- 
ftincts and affections, and, in many cafes, great 
fagacity. Thefe are attributes of mind, and 
have an original beauty. 

As we allow to brute animals a thinking 
principle or mind, though far inferior to that 
which is in man ; and as, in many of their intel- 
lectual and active powers, they very much re- 
ferable the human fpecies, their actions, their 
motions, and even their looks, derive a beauty 
from the powers of thought which they exprefs. 

There is a wonderful variety in their manner 
of life ; and we find the powers they poffefs, their 
outward form, and their inward ftructure, exactly 
adapted to it. In every fpecies, the more per- 
fectly any individual is fitted for its end and 
planner of life, the greater is its beauty. 


556 ESSAY VIII. [CHAP. 4, 

In a race-horfe, every thing that expreffes 
agility, ardour, and emulation, gives beauty to the 
animal. In a pointer, acutenefs of fcent, eagernefs 
on the game, and tractablenefs, are the beauties 
of the fpecies. A fheep derives its beauty from 
the finenefs and quantity of its fleece ; and in 
the wild animals, every beauty is a fign of their 
perfection in their kind. \ 

It is an oblervation of the celebrated Lin- 
njeus, that, in the vegetable kingdom, the poi- 
fonous plants have commonly a lurid and difa- 
greeable appearance to the eye, of which he 
gives many instances. I apprehend the obfer- 
vation may be extended to the animal kingdom, 
in which we commonly fee fomething fhocking 
to the eye in the noxious and poifonous animals. 

The beauties which Anatomilts and Phyiiolo- 
gifts defcribe in the internal ftructure of the va- 
rious tribes of animals ; in the organs of fenfe, 
of nutrition, and of motion, are expreffive of 
wife defign and contrivance, in fitting them for 
the various kinds of life for which they are in- 

Thus, I think, it appears, that the beauty 
which we perceive in the inferior animals, is ex- 
preffive, either of fuch perfections as their feve- 
ral natures may receive, or expreffive of wife de- 
iign in him who made them, and that their beau- 
ty is derived from the perfections which it ex- 



But of all the objects of fenfe, the moft link- 
ing and attractive beauty is perceived in the 
human fpecies, and particularly in the fair fex. 

Milton reprefents Satan himfelf, in furvey- 
ing the furniture of this globe, as itruck with 
the beauty of the firft happy pair. 

Two of far nobler fhape, erect and tall, 
Godlike erect ! with native honour clad 
In naked majefty, feem'd lords of all. 
And worthy feem'd, for in their looks divine, 
The image of their glorious Maker, Jhone 
Truth, wifdom, fanctitude fevere, and pure ; 
Severe, but in true filial freedom plac'd, 
Whence true authority in man ; though both 
Not equal, as their fex not equal feem'd, 
For contemplation he, and valour form'd, 
For foftnels {he, and fweet attractive grace. 

In this well known pafiage of Milton, we 
fee that this great Poet derives the beauty of the 
firft pair in Paradife from thofe expreffions of 
moral and intellectual qualities which appeared 
in their outward form and demeanour. 

The molt minute and fyftematical account of 
-beauty in the human fpecies, and particularly in 
the fair fex, I have met with, is in Crito ; or, a 
Dialogue on Beauty, faid to be written by the 
author of Polymetis, and republifhed by Dods- 
ley in his collection of fugitive pieces. 

I (hall borrow from that author fome obfer- 
vations. which, I think, tend to ihow that the 


558 ESSAY vm. [chap. 4, 

beauty of the human body is derived from the 
figns it exhibits of fome perfection of the mind 
or perfon. 

All that can be called beauty in the human 
fpecies may be reduced to thefe four heads ; co- 
lour, form, expreffion, and grace. The two for- 
mer may be called the body, the two latter the 
foul of beauty. 

The beauty of colour is not owing folely to 
the natural livclinefs of flefh-colour and red, nor 
to the much greater charms they receive from 
being properly blended together ; but is alfo" 
owing, in fome degree, to the idea they carry 
with them of good health, without which all 
beauty grows languid and lefs engaging, and 
with I which it always recovers an additional 
flreng^i and luftre. This is fupported by the 
authority of Cicero. Venujias et pulchritudo 
corporis fecerni non potejl a vaktudine. 

Here I obferve, that as the colour of the body 
is very different in different climates, every na- 
tion preferring the colour of its climate ; and as 
among us one man prefers a fair beauty, another 
a brunette, without being able to give any rea- 
fon for this preference ; this diverlity of tafte has 
no ftandard in the common principles of human 
nature, but mull arife from fomething that is 
different in different nations, and in different in- 
dividuals of the fame nation, 



I obferved before, that fafhion, habit, aflbci- 
ations, and perhaps fome peculiarity of conftitu- 
tion, may have great influence upon this internal 
fenfe, as well as upon the external. Setting 
afide the judgments arifing from fuch caufes, 
there feems to remain nothing that, according to 
the common judgment of mankind, can be called 
beauty in the colour of the fpecies, but what ex- 
prefTes perfect health and livelinefs, and in the 
fair fex foftnefs and delicacy; and nothing that 
can be called deformity but what indicates dif- 
eafe and decline. And if this be fo, it follows, 
that the beauty of colour is derived from the 
perfections which it expreffes. This, however, 
of all the ingredients of beauty, is the leaft, 

The next in order is form, or proportion of 
parts. The mod beautiful form, as the author 
thinks, is that which indicates delicacy and foft- 
nefs in the fair fex, and in the male either 
ftrength or agility. The beauty of form, there- 
fore, lies all in exoreffion. 

The third ingredient, which has more power 
than either colour or form, he calls exprelTion, 
and obferves, that it is only the expreffionof the 
tender and kind paffions that gives beauty ; that 
all the cruel and unkind ones add to deformity \ 
and that, on this account, good nature may very 
juftly be faid to be the belt feature, even in the 
fineit face. Mcdefty, fenfibility, and fweetnefs, 


560 ' ESSAY VIII. [CHAP. 4, 

blended together, fo as either to enliven or to 
correct each other, give almoft as much attraction 
as the paffions are capable of adding to a very 
pretty face. 

It is owing, fays the author, to the great force 
of plealingnefs which attends all the kinder paf- 
fions, that lovers not only feem, but really are, 
more beautiful to each other than they are to the 
reft of the world ; becaufe, when they are to- 
gether, the moll pleafing paffions are more fre- 
quently exerted in each of their faces than they 
are in either before the reft of the world. 
There is then, as a French author very well ex- 
preffes it, a foul upon their countenances, which 
does not appear when they are abfent from one 
another, or even in company that lays a reftraint 
upon their features. 

There is a great difference in the fame face, 
according as the perfon is in a better or a worfe 
humour, or more or lefs lively. The beft com- 
plexion, the fined features, and the exacted ihape, 
without any thing of the mind exprefTed in the 
face, is infipid and unmoving. The fineft eyes 
in the world, with an excefs of malice or rage 
in them, will grow fhocking. The paffions can 
give beauty without the affiftance of colour or 
form, and take it away where thefe have united 
moft ftrongly to give it ; and therefore this part 
of beauty is greatly fuperior to the other two. 



The la* and nobleft part of beauty is grace, 
which the author thinks undefinable. 

Nothing caufes love fo generally and irreiiftibly 
as grace. Therefore, in the mythology of the 
Greeks and Romans, the Graces were the con- 
ftant attendants of Venus the goddefs of love. 
Grace is like the ceftus of the fame goddefs, 
which was fuppofed to comprehend every thing 
that was winning and engaging, and to create 
love by a fecret and inexplicable force, like that 
of fome magical charm. 

There are two kinds of grace, the majeure 
and the familiar ; the firfl more commanding, 
the laft more delightful and engaging. The 
Grecian Painters and Sculptors ufed to exprefs 
the former moft ftrongly in the looks and atti- 
tudes of their Minervas, and the latter in thofe 
of Venus. This diftinclion is marked in the de- 
fcription of the perfonages of Virtue and Plea- 
fure in the ancient fable of the Choice of Her- 

Graceful, but each with different grace they move, 
This ftriking facred awe, that fofcer winning love. 

In the perfons of Adam and Eve in Paradife, 
Milton has made the fame diftinction. 

For contemplation he, and valour form'd, 
For foftnefs Ike, and ftveet attractive grace. 

Vol. II. N n Though 

562 ESSAY VIII. [CHAP. 4. 

Though grace be fo difficult to be defined^ 
there are two things that hold uriiverfally with 
relation to it. Firjl, There is no grace without 
motion ; fome genteel or pleafing motion, either 
of the whole body or of fome limb, or at leaft 
fome feature. Hence, in the face, grace appears 
only on thofe features that are moveable, arid 
change with the various emotions and fentjments 
of the mind, fuch as the eyes and eye-brows, the 
mouth and parts adjacent. When Venus ap- 
peared to her fon JEneas in difguife, and, after 
fome cpnverfation with him, retired, it was by 
the grace of her motion in retiring that he dis- 
covered her to be truly a goddefs. 

Dixit, et avertens rofea cervice refulfit, 
Ambrofiseque comae divinum vertice odorem 
Spiravere; pedes veftis defiuxit ad imos; 
Et vera iuceffu patuit dea. llle, ubi matrera 
Agnovit, isle. 

A fecond obfervation is, That there can be 
no grace with impropriety, or that nothing can 
be graceful that is not adapted to the character 
and fituation of the perfon. 

From thefe obfervations, which appear to me 
to be juft, we may, I think, conclude, that grace, 
as far as it is viiible, confifts of thofe motions, 
cither of the whole body, or of apart or feature, 


OF BEAU IT. 563 

which exprefs the moil perfect propriety of con- 
duct and fentiment in an amiable character. 

Thofe motions mud be different in different 
characters ; they mull vary with every varia- 
tion of emotion and fentiment ; they may ex- 
prefs either dignity or refpect, confidence or re- 
ferve, love or juft refentment, efteem or indig- 
nation, zeal or indifference. Every paffion, fen- 
timent, or emotion, that in its nature and de- 
gree is juft and proper, and correfponds perfect- 
ly with the character of the perfon, and with the 
occafion, is what we may call the foul of grace. 
The body or vifible part confifts of thofe mo- 
tions and features which give the true and un- 
affected expreffion of this foul. 

Thus, I think, all the ingredients of human 
beauty, as they are enumerated and defcribed by 
this ingenious author, terminate in expreffion : 
They either exprefs fome perfection of the body^ 
as a part of the man, and an initrument of the 
mind, or fome amiable quality or attribute of 
the mind itfelf. 

It cannot indeed be denied, that the expref- 
fion of a fine countenance may be unnaturally 
disjoined from the amiable qualities which it na- 
turally exprefTes : But we prefume the contrary, 
till we have clear evidence ; and even then, We 
pay homage to the expreffion, as we do to the 
throne when it happen? to be unworthily filled, 


564 ESSAY VIII* [CHAP. 4. 

Whether what I have offered, to fhew that all 
the beauty of the objects of fenfe is borrowed, 
and derived from the beauties of mind which it 
exprefles or fuggefts to the imagination, be well 
founded or not ; I hope this terreftrial Venus 
will not be deemed lefs worthy of the4iomage 
which has always been paid to her, by being con- 
ceived more nearly allied to the celeftial, than 
me has commonly been reprefented. 

To make an end of this fubject, tafte feems to 
be progrefhve as man is. Children, when re- 
frefhed by fleep, and at eafe from pain and hun- 
ger, are difpofed to attend to the objects about 
them ; they are pleafed with brilliant colours, 
gaudy ornaments, regular forms, cheerful coun- 
tenances, noify mirth, and glee. Such is the 
tafte of childhood, which we muft conclude to 
be given for wife purpofes. A great part of the 
happinefs of that period of life is derived from 
it ; and therefore it ought to- be indulged. It 
leads them to attend to objects which they may 
afterwards find worthy of their attention. It 
puts them upon exerting their infant faculties of 
body and mind, which, by fuch exertions, are 
daily ftrengthened and improved. 

As they advance in years and in underftand- 
ing, other beauties attract their attention, which, 
by their novelty or fuperiority, throw a fhade 
>]pon thofe they formerly admired. They de- 


light in feats of agility, ftrength, and art ; they 
love thofe that excel in them, and ftrive to equal 
them. In the tales and fables they hear, they 
begin to difcern beauties of mind. Some cha- 
racters and actions appear lovely, others give 
difguft. The intellectual and moral powers be- 
gin to open, and, if cheriihed by favourable cir- 
eumftances, advance gradually in ftrength, till 
they arrive at that degree of perfection, to which 
human nature, in its prefent Hate, is limited. 

In our progrefs from infancy to maturity, our 
faculties open in a regular order appointed by 
Nature ; the meaneft firft ; thofe of more dig- 
nity in fucceflion, until the moral and rational 
powers finifh the man. Every faculty furnimes 
new notions, brings new beauties into view, and 
enlarges the province of tafte ; fo that we may 
fay, there is a tafte of childhood, a tafte of youth., 
and a manly tafte. Each is beautiful in its fea- 
ion ; but not fo much fo, when carried beyond 
its feafon. Not that the man ought to diflike 
the things that pleafe the child, or the youth, 
but to pat lefs value upon them, compared with 
other beauties, with which he ought to be ac- 

Our moral and rational powers juftly claim 
dominion over the whole man. Even tafte is 
not exempted from their authority ; it muft be 
fubject to that authority in every cafe wherein 

566 ESSAY VIII. [CHAP. 4* 

we pretend to reafon or difpute about matters of 
tafte ; it is the voice of reafon that our love or 
our admiration ought to be proportioned to the 
merit of the object. When it is not grounded 
on real worth, it muft be the effect of conftitu- 
tion, or of fome habit or cafual affociation. A 
fond mother may fee a beauty in her darling 
child, or a fond author in his work, to which 
the reft of the world are blind. In fuch cafes, 
the affection is pre-engaged, and, as it were, 
bribes the judgment, to make the object worthy 
of that affection. For the mind cannot be eafy 
in putting a value upon an object beyond what 
it conceives to be due. When affection is not 
carried away by fome natural or acquired bias, 
it naturally is and ought to be led by the judg- 

As, in the diviilon which I have followed of 
our intellectual powers, I mentioned moral per- 
ception and confcioufnefs, the reader may ex- 
pect that fome reafon fnould be given, why they 
are not treated of in this place. 

As to confcioufnefs ; what I think neceiTary 
to be faid upon it has been already faid, Effay 6. 
chap. 5. As to the faculty of moral perception, 
it is indeed a moit important part of human 
understanding, and well worthy of the molt at- 
tentive consideration, fince without it we could 
have no conception of right and wrong, of duty 



and moral obligation, and fince the firft prin- 
ciples of morals, upon which ail moral reafoning 
muft be grounded, are its immediate dictates ; 
but as it is an adtive as well as an intellectual 
power, and has an immediate relation to the 
other a&ive powers of the mind, I apprehend 
that it is proper to defer the confideration of it 
till thefe be explained.